Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Part 2 - Malta

So after a cracking day on the Stubborn we retired to the bar, Huggins, for a few carbonated adult beverages, mine tasted on lime and soda, Howard’s was Cisk! After a filling dinner in the same place we retired early as we were both knackered.

Meet time was 08:30 for a wheels away of 10:30 to drive down to meet Owen in Valetta. Gases were spot on and the most Leo could get out of the compressor (215 bar). Today was to be the Southwold which lies in 75 metres, a 3 stage dive for Howard and I using 15/45, 50% and 100%. Leo was going to be joined by George a local trimix diver. That meant we had a grand total of 5 on the boat including Leo! We were advised that we would have to pay a premium because of the small numbers – each trip was 50eu! More than worth it.

Here is a little about the events leading to her demise in 1942

“On the 23rd of March 1942, one of the merchant ships in this convoy, Breconshire was hit by enemy bombs and stopped a few miles off St Thomas bay. The weather was becoming rough and Breconshire was drifting helplessly towards shore. The crew on the Breconshire managed to anchor the ship 1.5 miles off Zonqor Point. The following morning on the 24th of March Breconshire was dragging it’s anchors over the sandy bottom. HMS Southwold was ordered to Breconshire, but while trying to pass a line to the disabled ship, a mine exploded under her engine room. One officer and four ratings were killed. All power and electrical services were lost, but the diesel generator could still be started. The engine room flooded but water flooding into the gearing room was held in check by shoring up the bulkheads and blocking leaks. A tow was attached to the Southwold by the tug Ancient, but the ships side plating abreast the engine room split right up to the upper deck on both sides. She sagged and took a list to starboard. The wounded were transferred to the destroyer Dulverton. The midship portion gradually sank lower and the ship started to work with the swell. She was then abandoned, started to settle with considerable sag and sank in two parts”

The Southwold before she sank. Note the guns at the back, more of them later

This time we had a massive 5 minutes drive out to the wreck site with a slight swell. Leo suggested that Howard and I go down before he and George so that we had the wreck to ourselves for photos, plus the fact we were looking at a bottom time of 20 mins and they were only looking at 15mins. We would meet on the ascent or maybe somewhere on the wreck. The water was a deep blue cobalt which could only mean one thing, cracking viz again! Rolling off a rib with 3 stages and a camera was going to be a challenge so I decided to get the O2 bottle passed down to me once I was settled in the water. Over to the shot, and a quick descent to 6m for the bubble check, as we were on 15/45 bottom stages at this point.

Down the shot line and at 45m I started to make out the wreck 30m below! I also started to see large white fish which I have no clue what they were, they looked about the size of small dolphins (I asked Leo what these might have been and he reckoned they were probably white grouper which can grow to around 1.5m). The shot was bang on the wreck just on the break line where the stern section begins (the bow section lies some 300m away in slightly shallower waters). Moving over the wreck down the port side, we passed a large pile of shells next to the rear superstructure area, just in front of the large 4in guns.

The rear superstructure

The piles of shells next to the 4in gun.

The twin barrels of the 4in gun

As we moved aft you can see a depth charger launcher complete with chargers. We spoke on the surface of taking a mallet down the next time…

Howard and the depth chargers

We then moved further aft and dropped over the stern to the seabed. I saw another white fish as it quickly swam off into the distance to get away from the noisy OC divers who were giggling with joy!!

Howard at the stern

We then spotted the large intact props underneath the rear. There is quite a lot of netting here, fortunately it is tidy and out of the way but it shows that even in nice places like this, netting could be a problem. This wreck had far more life on it that the Stubborn but still less than anything I have seen in the UK. The Mediterranean is somewhat fished out…

Howard and the props, with the netting in the foreground.

Back over the top past the rear gun again for some gratuitous photo shots next to the gun!!

I then led into the overhang between the gun and superstructure, turning around to fin backwards and get Howard coming through. As I was about to exit this area I nearly finned into a single strand of monofilament; photos taken and Howard cuts the line to make sure no-one else has an issue with it.

Underneath the superstructure between the guns and deck.

We then move forward towards the shot and pass over the break point where you can see the inwards of the ship with cable runs and such-like exposed. We leave the bottom a little early and send the Al10s which we are using as bottom stages up on an SMB (already coordinated with Owen) for no other reason that it is one set of bottles that don’t need to be rotated at 21m!! Just as we reach the shot we see Leo and George swimming the other way. Up we go and as we are passing through 45m we can see Leo and George making their way back to the shot, there bubbles creating a very artistic curtain above them. We reach 21m for the switch and can easily see Leo and George 30m below us!

Leo and George 30m below us!

More uneventful deco and whilst today was longer, 100mins run-time, it didn’t feel as boring as yesterday. Leo and George joined us and then passed through our stops and we joined them at 6m for our 20mins of O2 before ascending to the surface. All the dives are shot-line ascents which isn’t too much of a problem because Owen has rigged 3 drop-lines with weights at 9m which means everyone isn’t crowded at 6m and 9m doing their stops.

Leo and George at 6m bathing in the sunlight coming from the surface.

Big smiles all round and back onto the boat for the 5 mins back to the shore. Unload the boat and back to Divewise. Unfortunately Owen has an appointment at 14:30 which means we have to load the boat at 09:30, which means a start time of 07:15 the following morning. Whilst this isn’t a problem for us, it does mean that the gas monkeys have to work all through the night. A big hats off to Howard (Shaw from Divewise, not Mr Payne) for working through the night to get the trimix, 50% & 100% sorted for when we arrived. Without the dedication of the staff at Divewise we would not have got the dives we did.

I also must say a huge thank you to Howard Shaw for lending me his DS125 for the next day's diving. Somewhere between getting back on the boat and putting the camera gear in the dunk tank to clean it off, the SS200 strobe must have been banged because after I had rinsed the rig and taken the strobe back off to charge the battery I noticed that the pack was wet and the front of the strobe was full of black water :( One flooded strobe. A quick taste of the water showed that it wasn't salty so must have come from the dunk tank (as I managed to take shots at 6m with both strobes).

I would like to say that if anyone is planning on sharing a room with Howard after he has had a few beers, that they either take some tamazepam themselves or they buy a large blunt object to beat the sh*t out of Howard when he is snoring like a bull elephant. I have never heard or seen anyone snore like he does, even when he is on his side! Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep that night!