Wednesday, 17 June 2009

If Carlsberg Made Normoxic Wrecks...Malta Would be the Place...Part 1

Part 1

Last year I saw a video from Stuart Keasley of the bow section of the Southwold which lies in 68m off Malta and I immediately said that I had to go there. I contacted Howard about this and he said he was also interested.

Howard next to the conning tower of HMS Stubborn

We set about setting up a photography workshop for a weekend in March where we would teach for 2 days and then he and I would dive the Southwold. Unfortunately there wasn’t too much take up so we said “What the hell, let’s go and make a good weekend of it”. The plan was to fly out on the Thursday night with Stuart, dive HMS Stubborn on the Friday, HMS Southwold bow on the Saturday and then the stern section on the Sunday. However, after discussions with Stuart, he recommended binning one of the Southwold dives and do the Polynesia instead as it is a classic, this we did. Unfortunately the weather gods weren’t playing in March and the weather was crap so the trip was binned. Some rapid re-planning ensued and we rebooked for this weekend just gone.

Unfortunately Stuart was running a photography and video workshop this weekend and I couldn’t move my dates due to having my kids over, so he didn’t join us. Howard and I met on Thursday evening at the X-ray machines where the security staff were looking over his collection of things… (mainly regs, HID and battery!) and making his hand-luggage not look like it weighed 20kg! I had already been rumbled when I put my hand-luggage on the scales at the request of the check-in staff and it came in at 19kg! I moved some regs over but it was still 14kg and I got away with that. We hadn’t pre-booked any extra kit so had to pay £13 (15eu) for the 32kg of dive kit which wasn’t too much of a problem.

Alan at Divewise had said that he would pick us at the airport, this he did, very good service considering we were landing at 00:45!! In fact Alan and Divewise provided an excellent service and I would definitely recommend using them as an operator (more of that later). Chatting with Alan on the way to the hotel we sorted out what gases we would be using the following day on the HMS Stubborn and he dropped us off saying he would pick us up at 08:30 the following morning for a 10:30 wheels to leave for the boat.

For those who have shared a room with Howard, you know what a snore-monster he can be. However, he does realise this and provides ear-plugs for his room-biddies! Fortunately I was knackered and he hadn’t had a beer so there gentle rumbling of a hippo didn’t materialise.

Up and off down to reception where Alan was waiting for us. The 5 min journey in the dive mobile might have seen excessive but carrying 2 x 32kg worth of dive gear plus camera gear wouldn’t have been fun in the 25 degree heat. The dive centre is very much set around recreational work but they have recently launched Techwise under the watchful eye of Paul Toomer who plans to run the majority of his summer courses from the facility. They currently have plenty of twinsets and Al7 but they lack 80s which means the bottom stages are limited to Al10s which don’t sit as well, or hang as well empty. They are addressing this shortfall. They are also upgrading their gas panel to pump beyond their current limit of 215 bar. They have a Haskell but the air-lines are limited to 215 bar. Gas is pretty cheap compared to the UK too; a twinset of 18/45 fill was 29eu!! Paul was running an Advanced Rec Trimix course when we got there and just as we left he had started a Normoxic Trimix course. He had something like 8 courses planned back-to-back there as it is an ideal facility. The staff couldn’t do more to help. Their other Tec instructor is a dutch guy called Leo who was an absolute star; he was the mix gas monkey, dive buddy and overall good egg and he would be joining us for 2 of the 3 mix dives we had planned.

Once all the kit was sorted and gas analysed we found that we had a little more spare time; as we were the only people on Owen’s boat, he was going to bring it up to the centre and drive the whole 7 mins out to the Stubborn site! Owen’s boat is great, a fast rib with enough room to take 8 divers equipped with twins and 3 stages.

He shotted the wreck just as we finished get the drysuits on. Whilst the air temps were in the high 20’s and the top 6m was 24 degrees, the bottom temps were around 15 degrees. I was sweating like a para in a maths test by the time I was ready to jump in with twin 12s and an Al7 of 50%. Rolled over the side into the relatively cool water and over to the shot to meet up with Howard and Leo. I led down the shot, bubble checks in the crystal clear water. At around 20m, shapes on the seabed at 58m started to become visible! At 35m I looked between my legs and noticed the wreck behind me (the shot was about 10m off the port side of the wreck, up current on a sandy bed). I couldn’t believe what I saw, the whole of the 66m long submarine was visible in one go. If this is what wreck diving in Malta was like, I was sold.

We had already discussed that we were going to move to the bow to get some photos of Howard and Leo near the 3 torpedo tubes on the port side. This we duly did. The seabed is a nice white sand so the abundant ambient light was reflected back making shots my ambient light/fill shots relatively easy compared to UK diving. Most of the shots were ISO 250, 1/40th and f6.7 on a Sigma 10mm/Nikon D200 for those who are interested.

Howard moving from the shot to HMS Stubborn.

The bow of HMS Stubborn

The bow of HMS Stubborn

Howard next to the conning tower

Howard looking into the escape hatch (Mark Ellyat allegedly has penetrated this hatch with just a single while the rest of his kit was taken off and staged on the outside)

Howard next to the conning tower

Howard next to the conning tower

Howard next to the conning tower

Howard and Leo at the stern section

After 23 mins on the bottom we called it on min gas and ascended for a warm relaxing deco before getting back on the rib with massive smiles on our faces. We couldn’t believe what we had seen down there and more importantly, why hadn’t we been out here before? Leo was a happy bunny too; he is TDI Adv Trimix trained and a Trimix Instructor but also has a strong GUE bent and really wants to develop his GUE tech side (he is Fundies trained) but funds are the limiting factor at the moment. Having a pair of chimps who didn’t need looking after, like some of the clients, made for a relaxing dive for him too.

Back to the centre for a swim from the RIB to the shore, which was made the more interesting by Howard having to have his clothes and shoes (which he had worn to the jetty around the corner from the dive centre) stuffed inside his drysuit.

What a cracking first day, we were certainly looking forward to days 2 and 3 if today was anything to go by.