Monday, 4 August 2008

TFT's "Nuts Deep in Rust" Narvik Tour 2008

Narvik is a town of 18,000 people in the county of Nordland, Norway. "Nord" means North, and this is not an underestimation. Look at a map of the world. Now head up the uk with your finger until you reach the Shetland Islands. Now move your fingers to the east and you should hit Oslo. Now move your finger north again and when you almost run out of country you'll be in the Narvik area. Now you;re in the Arctic circle, where a day last six months, and the following night the remaining six months. Where everything is tough enough to survive a change in temperature from day to night of 30 degrees to minus 30 degrees. And where the water is testicle-retractingly cold.

Narvik is dominated by an Iron Ore shipping plant, and it is to this plant that the town owes its growth. The ore is shipped from the rich mines in Sweden. During the summer the ore can be shipped from other locations, but in the winter Narvik is the most northerly harbour that does not freeze over. It is to this day a busy shipping pant, and a busy location, and much of the goods that are imported into northern Norway still come through Narvik.

The strategic importance of this harbour was not lost on the Germans in World War 2. Their entire economic and war footing was based on steel, and the supply of iron ore for that steel of vital importance. during the summer months, the ore could be shipped from the Swedish town of Lulea, but in the water Narvik was the only option. The town thus became the focal point of the Norwegian campaign for the Germans.

On April 9th, 1940 ten German Destroyers, each carrying 200 mountain warfare troops, slipped into the Ofoten Fjord and quietly made their way to Narvik. Two outdated coastal defence ships, the Eidsvold and the Norge were alerted and fired warning shots across the German ships bows. The Germans were under orders to capture Narvik without a fight if possible, so after some signals were batted back and forth, the Norwegians sent across an officer to speak to the Germans. When the German captains failed to convince the Norwegians to give up without a fight, torpedoes were immediately slammed into the side of the Coastal defence ships, putting 276 men into the freezing waters, where they lives ended. This battle lasted less than 20 minutes from start to finish. The Germans had successfully invaded.

As a matter of complete coincidence, the day previously had seen a British task force int he area laying mines to stop just such an occurrence, as Churchill had decided there was no way he could accept Johnny foreigner having access to all that iron ore. Commodore Bernard Warburton Lee commanding the 2nd destroyer flotilla had 5 H class British destroyers. On the way to Norway, he wrote to his wife "I believe the war is going to start soon, and I am going to start it".

Warburton-Lee was a "bit handy" at this Naval battle stuff. He arrived at the entrance to the port, hidden by snowstorms from Johnny foreigner. He then took the Hardy, Hunter and Havock into the harbour, and sank two of the German destroyers with a withering force of torpedoes and gunfire. Thus ended the Wilhelm Heidkamp and the Anton Schmidt. Next, the Hotspur and Hostile joined in a second attack which sank a number of merchant ships. Warburton-Lee then withdrew outside the harbour.

Warburton-Lee decided to remain at Narvik for long enough to make one more attack, before making his way back out to sea. Before he could go this, the three destroyers from Herjangs Fjord appeared to his north west. Now they were at sea the larger German destroyers had the British at something of a disadvantage, which soon got worse when they were attacked by the two destroyers to their west. The British were now caught between two attacks. The Hardy was badly damaged, and had to be beached while the Hunter was sunk outright. Captain Warburton-Lee was killed in this phase of the battle. He was later awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. A third British destroyer, the Hotspur was also badly damaged. The five German destroyers had also taken some damage in the fighting, and failed to press their advantage, allowing the two relatively undamaged British destroyers to rescue the Hotspur. On their way out of the fjord, the British sank the German ammunition ship Rauenfels, the only one to have reached Narvik.

Three days later the British returned to Narvik in much greater force (second battle of Narvik, 13 April 1940), with the battleship HMS Warspite and nine destroyers, and quickly sank the surviving German ships.

The ferocity of the battle can only be imagined. At one point, the Hardy turned broadside to the harbour and launched TEN torpedoes. The end result of all this carnage is that the harbour and fjord were simply littered with destroyers and with merchantmen of all sizes. It looks a little more peaceful today.

The harbour today has been cleared of some of the destroyers, all dumped outside the harbour in a perfect formation for diving together. However, some of the merchantmentmen, not considered a risk to shipping, are still exactly where they sank, perhaps 5 minutes from the dock. they lay in a natural harbour , surrounded by mountains. the water is brackish, as although he fjord is tidal the water itself hardly moves, and the run off from the mountains is just so staggeringly huge. The end result for divers is an extremely well protected mecca for wreck diving, with perfectly clear but cold water, no currents or significant water movement to speak of, and extremely well preserved wrecks. Today you can still dive most of the German Destroyers, although some of the British ones are protected. You can also dive the merchantmen. The all lie in 30 metres of water or shallower.

The Dive Boat

The MS Galten is a converted Swedish Mine Sweeper. 24 metres long and extremely solid in the water, she could handle heavy seas with ease, never mind the glass calm waters of the Norwegian Fjord. She was converted by skipper Anders to serve as a perfect technical dive boat, and is extremely well fitted out for this. The boat has lots of nice little touches, like a ship behind every twinset for simultaneous filling of all bottles, a built in sauna, an attached rib for picking up divers and fishing, and a large sheltered kitting up area.

The boat was tied up at Narvik Havn (The port of Narvik) every evening, but the long trip back from the dive sites was an average ten minutes so this was hardly a chore. The skipper was ably assisted by crewmember Patrick, who besides being a dab hand with crewing a boat, is also a hotel trained chef, and provided the divers with three cooked meals a day to keep the home fires burning. The boat had a good ladder at the stern, a large top desk for drying kit and snoozing, and enough berths for the two crew and twelve burly divers, including some private rooms as well as a large stern bunk room. Needless to say this stern bunkroom smelled like the inside of a skunk’s arse by the end of the week.

The full line of DIR divers for the invitational trip, made up of YDers and DIRXers was

1. Rich Walker
3. Garf
4. Howard Payne
5. James the Badger
6. Joe Hesketh
7. Zuckerkringel
8. Jimbob
9. Osama Gobara
10. Godiva
11. Vid
12. Aitch

This was an interesting collection of divers at all levels, from fundies qualified people, to Tech1 and Tech2, with some Cave1 and Cave2 levels thrown into the mix. Obviously we had 12 identical sets of kit, but also a collection of scooters and enough spares to kit another few divers.

There was no issue with the kit as Rich had arranged several tons of shipping, so we packed up all our kit, spares, toolkits, scooters etc, and sent them off to Norway. This removed much of the stress of packing, and left us with 30kg to handle last minute items and clothes etc. Quite a pleasant way of organising things.

All we had to do now was get there.

26th and 27th July 2008

Well, the first day started off badly, tailed off a bit in the middle, and the less said about the end the better. It started with Gareth having a nightmare with his camera requiring no less dramatics than a frantic drive into London to Cameras Underwater, just before we were due to leave for Heathrow, and then having to beg YDer and Chimp Technician David to meet him at a secret location in order for David to perform field repairs on one of the camera strobes. David, armed with multi-tester and portable soldering iron, saved the day, as he has done many times in the past.

Next up for a pre-trip nightmare was Howard. Howard, the duke of cool, the master of calm, stepped out of his flat for a quick beer, and let the door close behind him. For the love of God. A very panicky half hour was then spent trying to figure out what to do, contemplating special-forces style breach through to lock picking and removing windows. However, in the end he decided that the most appropriate approach would be to walk in through the unlocked back door and take it from there. Situation number two – resolved.

Next up is Badger, who arrives pretty much on time to pick me up, and then proceeds to run over a cat on the way out of Haywards Heath. Obviously, we then pulled over and I went climbing through the fences and bushes looking for this injured cat. Eventually I found it, and aside from a bit of shock, it did not appeared to be inured, so as we had no idea of where the cat had come from I texted the local CPL branch to let them know, and we then continued on our way.

We were due to meet at the Thistle hotel in Heathrow. I believe the plan was that this would mean we would not have to get up early, and could have a couple of beers. Fantastic. After driving through Heathrow three times Badger and I eventually found the hotel and met up with Howard and GLOC, who had arrived half an hour earlier. There was an Indian wedding going on at the hotel, and the smell of food from the hotel was absolutely amazing. So we went directly to the bar to order food and beer. And more beer. And more beer. Eventually, we decided that as we were getting up at 4am to go to the bloody airport, we should all go to bed. Which we did. And then Badger and I went down to the bar again. For more beer. And more beer.

Somewhere around 1am, and absolutely shitfaced, I went to bed. I closed my eyes and it was 4am. I had the mother of a hangover. I had the father of a hangover. And I could feel a lot of little hangovers coming on.

Between 4am and 6pm was just planes, trains and automobiles. A flight to Oslo. Three of hours of waiting. A flight somewhere else. A 50 mile taxi. Gahhh. Narvik is not a simple place to get to. As the day went on, everyone else got taller, more blonde and more beautiful. and we looked more like a sack of shit.

At this point it’s worth introducing a few facts about Norway. Firstly, whilst waiting in Oslo, I ordered 3 coffees and three ham and cheese sandwiches. The lady behind the counter relieved me of twenty eight pounds. That’s 28. As badger eloquently put it, “nut crunchingly expensive”. DVDS cost between 20 and 30 quid. CDs are 20 quid. A pint, oh let’s not even go there.

Next fact is that it doesn’t go dark in Narvik in the summer. I mean ever. This plays very strange mental tricks with your head. It plays havoc with your sleeping patterns and kicks your circadian rhythm in the nuts. Very bizarre.

Next fact. Northern Norway is gut wrenchingly, stomach-flippingly, jaw droppingly beautiful. The view on the final plane flight coming across the fjords and seeing the effects of the glaciers was just breathtaking. It was incredible, and everyone was looking out the windows.

Next fact. The water is cold. I mean involuntary-retraction-of-testicles, can’t feel your legs kind of cold. Badger, GLOC , Rich Walker and I went for a 6k run sooner after we had arrived, and went we came back we joked about jumping in to cool off. Whilst Gareth was dipping his toes in the water and saying “fuck that” I dived off the railing into the water. Well bend me over backwards and roger me gently with a chainsaw. It was unbelievably cold. Rich had mentioned something about Narvik being in the Arctic circle and the waters coming directly south from the north pole, and somewhere in my head a little voice was reminding me of this, whilst my balls leapt up into my body and my fingers and down shut down in self defence. I swam to the ladder rather quickly. Gareth, blatently peer pressured, now had no choice but to jump in or face me making “cluck cluck” sounds all week. So in he went. And out he came, swearing and shivering. Badger took a little more convincing, but fair play he went in. We decided afterwards to go for a quick run and dip every morning, or at least every morning we could face it.

28th July

As we had promised ourselves, Badger, GLOC and I got up an hour before everyone else and ran 5 k along the causeway in the morning sunshine, whilst the sun burn off the very low cloud cover and revealed another beautiful day. When we got back to the boat people were starting to get up, but the three of us jumped in the water to cool down, which was very, very effective. A great breakfast was had by all, and a very lazy trip out to the first wreck took a grand total of ten minutes from time the engine was fired up to the time we were tied into the shot. Think Scapa with all the wrecks moved to just outside Stromness harbour, all the mountains pulled up into snow-capped peaks, and the water temperature dropped to about 10 degrees.

The SS Romanby was a British Merchantman 130 metres long weighing approximately 4880 tons, and now lying in approximately 28 metres of Water. She was sunk during the invasion in 1940, partially filled with Iron ore right next to the quayside. Today, she is completely open, with all holds and corridors accessible to those willing to penetrate the wreck, and a stunning dive if you are a wreck ferret.

TFT was split into two teams, as Rich W had joined us and this made for a team a little large. So as Howard is a complete tart, and Rich looks a bit handy in the water, we put them with Gareth so Gareth could take photos, whilst Badger and I would play who can wriggle into the most unfeasibly small looking gap in the wreck. This turned out to be a result, as Badger and I share a similar attitude to wreck diving, in that the point is to be on the inside of them.

Kitting up on the boat is just no drama. There’s loads of room, and with 12 DIR divers on the boat, there was no faffing or fettling, changing kit or deep discussions on deco or minimum gas. Everyone just kitted up, went through their team checks, and jumped in. Lovely.

Badger and I descended the shot and I immediately located the first big dark hole I could find, inverted to a heads down position, and that was the last time I saw the outside of the wreck until the end of the dive, an hour later. I’ll let Gareth tell the story of the dive and the wreck with his pictures, but it was a wreck ferrets dream. Multiple levels, long corridors, each hold completely accessible, even the enormous engine room full of wrecked equipment and tools, accessible to those not too wary for a penetration dive. The wreck has 4 holds, and each of them are lined with a layer of Iron Oxide. Picture the scene in the movie alien where Kane is lowered into the egg room and the walls and floor of the room are covered with a fine mist. It was just like that. Without the face-hugging, chest-bursting, multi-jawed, homicidal alien monsters of course. The “mist” looked green fro the light until you shined your torch into it, at which point it went bright orange. Incredible, and true to form, our Gareth took some stunning pictures, which are going to end up on people’s desktops I suspect.

What followed was 60 minutes of delightful diving. Badger and I called the dive pretty much at the same time, when we reached minimum gas. We swam back to the shotline, which was no effort in the incredible visibility (this is the nearest wreck to the harbour with the worst visibility, but it was still 15-20 metres in places), and then ascended back to the boat. After this first dive, we steamed back into Narvik, and the 6 hour surface interval gives you an indication of the tone of this trip. Slow, no stress, no hassle, everything done at a relaxed pace.

We all went up to the Narvik Musem, which gives a detailed history of Narvik’s involvement in the second world war. There was everything you might expect and a few suprises, like the sniper’s nest discovered in he 70’s as it was abandoned 30 odd years earlier and moved piece by piece and recreated in the museum. Fascinating stuff. Obviously, there was lots of information about the battles themselves, but that story is easily researched and explained elsewhere.

The second dive of the day was even better than the first – the same wreck, but now we knw our bearings. James and I headed for an opening we had spotted earlier in the day and dissapeard in the wreck to reappear 1 hour an 15 minutes later, covered in rust . At one point James and I debated passionately whether or not a gap was wide enough for us to squeeze through, and I resolved the discussion by getting myself properly wedged into it. In a perfect example of DIR trim and buoyancy control I pulled some piping out of the silt and threw it out of the way, leaving enough room for us to get through. James decided not to swim through the wall of now complete zero viz, and found another way to reach me. He then “had words” with me  It was a great laugh, and everyone had a great dive. I’m sure others will post descriptions of the wreck itself, but unfortunately there were no real photos from the second dive, as Gareth had left his camera on manual focus.

After dinner that evening, some of us decided to climb the 1KM hill overlooking the harbour. There was a 30 minute walk to a cable car, then a 600 metre cable car ride, followed by a fairly serious 400 metre hill walk. About 8 people made it to the top of the cable car. 5 people made it a hundred metres further. Only Chris and I made it to the top of the hill. We arrived at 11.30, still, and at midnight we had a snowball fight in the midnight sun. Now how often do you get to experience something like that. We walked back to find everyone else asleep, hardly surprising as it was now 2 am. Strangely I did not have problems sleeping that night.

The next day had promises of interesting dives, as it would be our first visit to two of the German warships – specifically two destroyers lying side by side in close proximity. James and I decided to buddy up again as we had had a laugh the day before. Gareth remembered the auto focus.

Tuesday 29th July 2008

Anders had decided to put us on the pile of destroyers right outside the port for two dives. these would be the Wilhelm Heidkamp and and Anton Schmidt. These wrecks were both 125 metres long, and approximately 12 metres broad, weighing circa 3500 tons each, and lying side by side immediately outside the harbour entrance where they were dumped for being a nuisance to shipping. this being a DIR boat, a great deal of research had been done on the wrecks we were to dive.

the ships now lie in approximately 28 metres of very clear water. Howard had decided that today was a scooter day. This left Badger, GLOC and I to have a bimble about, with penetrating the wreck again number one of the list of “must do’s for the day”. Skipper Anders had briefed everyone on the wrecks for the day, and we had learned that there were corridors allowing access, but requiring very careful finning. Some of the corridors allowed a complete swim through, and some were blocked by cables and fallen plating some distance in. Guess which one we chose…

Badger started laying the line. However, I wasn’t happy with the way he was doing it, so took over the number 1 role. The corridor was maybe 1 metre high by 1.5 metres wide. There was little room for aggressive finning, and certainly no vertical forgiveness for anything other than flat trim so it was all very gentle, very slow. I tied off every 4 metres or so. After a while I came to cables blocking the corridor. Arse. I knew they were both behind me so I reached behind me and gave the turn around signal. There was no way we could turn around we this was now a bit of a pain in the arse, as even using slow gentle fin kicks had destroyed the viz. So all three of us back-kicked all the way back long and out of the corridor, staying in touch contact, trying not to piss ourselves laughing at picking the one bloody corridor that was a non-starter. The wreck spat us out like a shit flavoured mint imperial, an we were fallowed by a cloud of crap. I recovered the primary tie off and we decided to stay outside for a bit. We swam around the central destroyer, peering into holes. What astonished us was how bloody small all the entrances were. We concluded that whilst the high command of the German Navy was run by German nationals, a crack Nazi unit had actually captive bred a race of oompah loompahs to run their warships as there’s no way people could fit down some of those hatches.

One of the destroyers is still sitting upright, so we focussed on this for the reminder of the dives. It is covered in life, which I found to my regret when GLOC caught badger and I playing starfish Frisbee and gave us the wagging finger that says “badcrumble says no”. The water temperature was actually relatively pleasant, and the viz better than anything I have seen in the UK, with the possible exception of the tabarka in Scapa. Everybody surfaced and began the continual laughter that accompanies a good dive on any dive boat in the world.

Forty Six minutes into the dive, God decided it was time to end the dive, as the inflator button from Gareth’s Halcyon Inflat-o-matic shot out of the inflator and disappeared into the depths, with the contents of his twinset desperately trying to follow it. Gareth handed off his camera to badger and shut down his right post. We called the dive at this point, and ascended where we were, with Badger and I keeping a close eye on GLOC, who was very carefully ascending without dumping any more from his wing than absolutely necessary. The ascent went fine, and we broke into the sunlight ofa 30 degree day in Narvik, just in time for Chef Patrick’s Salmon and Asparagus soup, with, of course, his homemade bread, which was becoming a daily highlight.

The guys began filing the cylinders for the second dive of the day, which was another visit to the central destroyer. We had decided on a specific area just aft of the bridge area to investigate and look for a way into the wreck.

This dive promised some great shots for Gareth. We went into the wreck a little, but it actually offered little in the way of openings, or so we thought until we saw Joe Hesketh make the sign of the cross and follow an unstoppable Howard Payne into a penetration that ended up going the entire length of the wreck. An outstanding performance. We had begun a similar penetration, but in tohe third room I was unhappy with the amount of cables and loose plating flapping around, and turned the team around to swim out again. On the way out my arm began to feel cold. Unfortunately, my suit flooded immediately after we exited the wreck, so that was pretty much the end of that for me. I had obviously grabbed onto one too many bits of rusty crap when doing tie-offs, and holed my dry glove in four separate places. I sent GLOC and Badger off of their own and mad ea leisure swim to the shotline and drifted up slowly. You could see the Galten on the surface from the bottom of the line and despite the cold arm I spent 15 minutes ascending the shotline, just watching all the divers below me on the wreck, moving about in teams of 2, 3 and 4. that was something I hadn’t been able to do before, so I just chilled out, ignored the arm, and drifted up at about a minute per metre to the surface. Out of the water I ran for the shower as I was bloody freezing.

That evening, following a “very” brief team chat, the team broke it’s vow of abstinence and headed down to the local supermarket to buy as much local lager as humanly possible without actually having to perform surgical procedures to remove kidneys and other high value items to sell. The local lager was called “Arctic”. It might as well have been called “drain-o”. It was horrific. We had to drink gallons of it before it began to taste acceptable, and only a bottle of vintage Cuban rum finally washed away the taste.

Several hours later, and completely toasted, we found out that the dive tomorrow was the deeper one of the week. Oops. At that point we called it a night, but not before Patrick had done us proud again with a dinner of reindeer meat and mashed potato.

Wednesday 30th July 2008

1st Hermann K├╝hne (125x11m ca 3500t)
2nd MS Strassa (127x18m)

Today was the longest steam of the week, and the skipper was somewhat anxious to get going early. It was going to be literally some miles and it must have taken a good 30 minutes to reach the dive site. Somehow we endured the boredom of the endless trip to the divesite. This one was going to prove to be an interesting dive, as it was a destroyer resting at an angle so that the stern of the ship was in 38 metres of water, and the bows were in two metres, so a leisurely hour could be spent drifting upwards from the bottom an finishing your deco still on the wreck. Badger and I dropped in together and descended to the bottom. I let Badger lead as he has that cave diver’s calm, slow approach, ideal for drifting about on a wreck slowly. We moved from 37 metres up to 30 metres, at which point Badger indicated for us to swim back down. I was a little baffled and shouted “what’s up are you not fucking narked enough or something” to him as we were breathing a weak nitrox mix for the dive. His reasoning soon became evident as we rounded the stern of the destroyer and came into what was perhaps 30 metres of light blue water, and an absolutely stunningly preserved wreck. We spent an entire hour drifting around the wreck, with no real need or desire to go inside it as the views wee incredible. We ended up at 2 metres, decoing out on Oxygen, to conclude what was the best dive I have ever had.

The afternoon plan was to dive a couple of merchantmen lying side by side in relatively shallow water. This is my sort of dive. Huge wrecks with loads of opportunities for squirreling around inside them. With great anticipation, I lay down in my bunk to chill out before the dive. And then woke up when everyone was kitting up. I was exhausted, and the thought of rushing to kit up did not fill me with glee so I called the dive and went back to sleep. I got up a bit later when everyone was in the water and thought “I’ll just pop through and check through my kit to make sure it is all ready for tomorrow” and found, to my horror, that my kit had been gang raped in my absence. My backplate was lying on the floor. My cylinders were missing. My torch was missing, it was all quite pitiful. That’s life in TFT though. If you can a dive your decision is not questioned but your kit is immediately up for all takers. Hey ho. Jimbob had taken my cylinders and Badger had wanted to try out a 21W Hid, so off he went with it. This proved to be a costly mistake, as he immediately decided he had to buy one. Then Osama told him he was selling one and had it with him and that was pretty much the end of that. Everyone surfaced safely after their dives to inform me that essentially I had missed the best dive of the week. However, divers being divers they could have missed the wreck and I would have been old that, so I didn’t beat myself up.

That evening was once again lovely, with sunshine over the mountains. Patrick cooked up a storm of freshly caught sea otter meat (caught whilst we were diving, how cool is that), pork chops and potatoes, and TFT supplied the beer. We had gone to the supermarket and bought some slightly more upmarket beer in self defence as none of us could stomach another can of denture cleaner. We also disovered the sauna on the boat that night, and fired it up to 90 degrees before a gang of us ran out and jumped into the arctic waters. I sounds horrific to type it, but it’s very, very refreshing and thoroughly recommend. The skipper has promised to post our testicles to us when they are found.

Thursday 31st July 2008

1st Neuenfels (140x19m 11600t)
2nd Fisser (116x16m)

The pan for the day was back on 32% and back onto the two merchantmen. The two wrecks are so large and intricate that you could spend the week on them. There were scooter teams going in, teams planning on gentle bimbles, teams planning on getting nuts deep into the wreck. GLOC, Badger and I were I the last category, whilst Howard was going off for a scooter with Osama and Joe.

So, this time it was a 4 hold merchantman, lying right inside Narvik Harbour so literally only a 10 minute steam from the quayside to the wreck. Tough week this. The XXX is lying completely upright, with all holds and engine rooms accessible on multiple levels. It was 140m long and 20 metres wide, so a good size wreck, plenty big enough for Howard to cause mayhem on his scooter, whilst leaving enough small passages for the three other members of the team to play about in.

We jumped in and did a bubble check at metres. Everything good and we dropped down to the bottom. Max depth for this dive was 24 metres, and our average around 19, so we had oodles of time and gas. In the end we did 75 minutes on the wreck and then 10 minutes O2 deco. The wreck is lying very open, with a massive torpedo hole in the port side, where she was walloped in 1940. The holds have been emptied, but there is still plenty to see. We started at the stern, where the twin props are still in place, although mostly buried in the sand. Gareth took the obligatory photos here, and we then ascended to the stern rail of the wreck. The following 70 minutes we spent descending into each hold in turn, swimming round each level in the hold, before finding some passageway or hole into the next hold. We spent the entire dive inside the wreck, and although it was a little misty, with that same green / orange iron oxide mist we had seen earlier in the week, the visibility was still very good indeed.

One interesting moment passing between the holds was had when Badger and I were trying to decide whether or not to line into a hole to investigate whether it went through to the next hold, or whether it was no worth it. Just at the moment we made what we thought was a prudent decision based on available gas to NOT go into the hole and find an easier way in, Howard came barrelling through on his own, at full tilt on his Gavin, from the other side. The light at the end of the tunnel is a fat hooligan on a miniG. We shook our heads in despair, and began the swim through, safe in the knowledge that if that asbo-wielding psychopath an fit through the bloody hole, there’s no way it was going to be a problem for any of us.

After approximately 60 minutes, we had covered all the holds, encountering most of the other teams on the way. We then exited the wreck and began a slow leisurely swim over the top of it back to the shotline, where we met up with another three divers. We swam up slowly to 6 metres, swapped to the Oxygen bottles we were carrying, and then looked down at the wreck for ten minutes whilst relaxing. We ascended at 1 metre per minute to the surface, and got out.

Patrick served up an outstanding spag bol whilst Gareth started processing his photos (some crackers today as I’m sure you’ll see sooner or later) and Badger waited for Howard to surface so he could hurl abuse at him, a task he performed with both passion and vigour, although it was all in good humour. Whilst GLOC had said "Howard could have slowed down a bit", and I had said "Howard FFS you nearly made me shit my drysuit", Badger, with his usual eloquence just stormed up to him and said "You're a F*cking menace you fat c*nt"

So, a good lunch was had by all, and we all sat back in the now emerging sunshine to wait for the cylinders to be filled and the boat to move the boat to the second dive of the day, another merchantman. Once again, Badger, GLOC and I planed to squirrel around in the silt and rust, whilst Howard and his hooligan friends fly around on their scooters.

Squirrel around we did. For about 75 bloody minutes. the trouble was, I had called the dive after about 65, but a miscommunication led to the message not being recieved by Badger HQ and GLOC HQ. so we swam on for ten minutes until I just lost my rag and called an immediate ascent. We did the ascent fine but were now 150 metres from the boat. A full on garf temper tantrum was interrupted by Badger suggesting we move out of the way of that "fucking huge chinese superfrieghter bearing down on us you stupid T*wat". I shut up and swam for it . Back on the boat and apologies all round for miscommunicaitons and temper tantrums. GLOC, as always, pulled some stunning photos out of the bag, and it was a top dive once we had all calmed down a bit and I had stopped shaking. Hey ho

We were now being totally spoilt with food. We had fresh Salmon for lunch, and some unidentifiable meat for dinner. Bearning in mind that we had eaten rudulf, and watched sea otter sqealing it's last on the end of a Norwegian harpoon, we had stopped questning what we were being fed with. Apparantly the cuter the animal, the more likely norwegians are to eat it, and the more delicious it is. This is not a place for fish huggers.

1st Wilhelm Heidkamp
2nd Romanby

The last day. We knew today was going to e a cracker. As per UK diving trip rules, we had all agreed to get mind bogglingly shitfaced that evening, following a couple of marathon dives. Badger and I werre geared up for Oxygen Deco to leave the week ncie and cleanly, and GLOC was after some specific images. With this in mind, the plan was Gareth and I would do the first dive together, with Badger and howard Teaming up with Joe. And then Badger and I would team up for the second dive, with Gareth and Howard teaming up for the second dive. This was the perfect combination as Howard is a complete camera hog and cannot resist being in front of the lens, and I can't interrupting a dive to "model" a shot. Howard will,on the other hand, spend anentire dive doing this.

so, the first dive of the day was the Wilhelm Heidkamp, one of the German Destroyers, funnily enough named after an engineer who saved the battlecruiser Seydlitz during the first world war - a battlecruiser later scuttled at Scapa flow. Anyhoo, I digress.

It was a delightful morning. the weather had turned a bit during the week, but picked up on the last day to see us off nicely. We had had a fantastic week, and were now thinking just of having a fun couple of dives rather than the "penetration to the max" approach we had adopted for the earlier part of the week. We were also going to do some nice slow ascents to leave the week nicely and cleanly.

That being said, the very first thing we did was descend into the mess hall and lay a line into the port passageway. This gave us about a 30 metre penetration into the wreck, passing hatches into lower levels and doors off to the side. GLOC decided that, on this last day, neither of us wanted to get into multilevel penetration, so we just had a nice straight line to swim.

we swam all the way out of the wreck, and then turned around and collected up the line as we swam back through the passageway.Here we encountered a bit of an issue. I was reeling in the line that Gareth had laid, and it had become trapped on a doorr handle. It proved impossible to release. The visibility inevitably closed in. This was not a problem. I knew Gareth was ahead of me on the line, and I knew the line was good to the exit. so I cut the line, ensuring I left the line to the exit secure. I then clipped off the reel and swam up, collecting the line very slowly and carefully by hand as I went. Gareth, of course, was happily waiting for me when I gave him the universal inter-agency signal to indicate i was dissatisfied with the quality of his line laying. He laughed at me, tooka photo, and we swam on.

Swimming around the port side of the wreck, we saw where another team had lined into another passageway. As we swam over the wreck, we would see torches in the corridors beneath us, and the occassional hole through which we could see a tie off. When we reached the end ot he passageway, Howard emerged with a reel. A few seconds later James emerged. Gareth and I were curious as to the apparant lack of Joe Hesketh on the line, so we stayed for a minute to watch. joe, cool as ice, had simply become completely silted up, and just cooly waited for his team to come and get him, which of course they did. Another good example of training turning what could be a drama into just another fun dive. they had done a fairly serious penetration as well, going down some of the hatches Gareth and I had shunned, so much so I was fairly jealous at having done gone down them myself. Ahh well, another time.

there was a line across to the anton Shmidt, so Gareth and I swam across that and then ascended up the shotline at a nice slow pace. A very peaceful, relaxing dive for all.

The second dive of the day was always going to be a biggie. We were to be back on the Romanby, which was my favourite wreck of the week. Gareth and howard were teaming up with Robto go and get some stage and line photos, and Badger and I were planning to inestigate every nook and cranny of this large wreck. Badger had already informed me that I was to "go and eat a lot of carbs as this will be such a long dive someone else might be in power when you surface". I did exactly what he said and ate lots of energy giving chocolate and potatoes and even weetabox between dives. I fancied a long old dive on this wreck myself.

Badger and I spent 90 minutes on the wreck, with an average depth of 18 metres, and temperatures ranging between 6 and 10 degrees C, depending on what deck we were on. thanks to Badgers nice, slow relaxed pace, my SAC had dropped during the week from abourt 18 at the start of the week to about 13 now, even in these cold temperatures. A good lesson learned there. Badger used this pace to investigate every single hold we could get into, and every nook and cranny of the massive engine room. whilst this is an easy dive, everyone was aware that they are heavily silted and a msissplaced fin kick immediately turned superb viz into zero viz, so it was just a matter of relaxing, avoiding flutter kicking at all costs, and taking our time.

It was up there in the top 5 dives I've ever had. It was just perfect. A loooongbottom time, with some nice clean Oxygen on the ascent meant that most people surfaced feeling on top of the world, and ready for the major pissup that would inevitably follow.

Much kit Packing, fettling and tidying ensued, and it was 10 pm by the time we finished. This is, however not a problem when it doesn't get dark, you can quite easily sit up drinking outside all night. Whilst we didn't quite manage this feat, we did consume gigantic quantities of "catering cider", which Badger had decided could "quite possibly give you magical powers if you drank enough". We also finished off the world's supply of Arctic beer to protect the rest of humanity from drinking it. We all went to bed, happy that we had had a stunning week's diving.

The next day was a reverse of the trip out, only with more pain and suffering. We ALL looked rough now. There were things left on on the boat we had to go back for, things left on the boat needing posting out to us, paperwork lost at the airport, tat purched for loved ones. We didn't buy a lot from the duty free becuase duty free in norway is like being gently molested as opposed to gang raped. It might not be the worst that can happen to you, but it's still bloody unpleasant. We also looked like we had all been through some sort of gang initiation ceremony, with our throats suffering from salt burn.

However, at the end of the day, everyone made it to where they were supposed to go.

As for Team foxturd, we had a final mcdonalds together at Heathrow airport before Howard and GLOC drove off, and Badger and I headed for Sussex. It was the end to a stunning week. I had learnt a great dea, certainly about DIR. All week teams had been chopping and changing. All week kit repairs and replacements were happening. All week, things just worked becuase we were all diving the same configurations, the same plans, the same guidelines. I am normally against DIR-only boats as I see them as exclusive, but I have to admit its a very efficient way of running a boat. However, most importanly, I had learnt a great deal about our team. It's fair to say we provided much of the chaos and madness above the water, but in the water when it was appropriate the humour dissapeared and we looked after each other. We took the piss ruthless on the boat, and watched each other carefully under it. This made for a very safe and enjoyable week. We all had a bloody good laugh, some bloody good memories, and I suspect a repeat performance will be happening at some point. In the meantime, the team has Tech2 approaching in the next few weeks, so no doubt there will be another report up then.

so thanks to everyone on the boat, especially rich Walker for organising it all, but especially to GLOC, Howard and Badger for being a good laugh and a solid team in the water.