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Scapa Flow


Richard Cullen

Making the 1400 mile round trip from Berkshire to Scrabster to catch the ferry to Stromness and thus Scapa Flow is an adventure in itself, but a group of us from Dive Crew were determined to dive the remaining wrecks of the scuttled 1st World War German High Seas lying at depths down to 46 metres and at the same time raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust.
Scapa Flow The trip and fundraising which was a year in the planning was given a great boost when the Lord Chancellor for England and Wales and the Justice Secretary the Right Honourable Jack Straw MP agreed to launch the challenge.

Six members signed up for it: Richard Cullen, James Doel, Lisa Miles, Rowland O'Connor, Penny Wilson and Andy Collins. Andy unfortunately had to drop out at the last moment through serious illness. Richard and James stopped at Capernwray on their way north and were stunned by the mid-week visibility and the size of the quarry's 'killer' trout.
Scapa Flow Arriving in Stromness harbour we hopped onto our home for the week, the motor vessel Invincible, which is owned and operated by Ian Trumpness and his wife Fiona. This large ex fishing boat sleeps twelve, has a bar, flat screen television etc and provided a perfect and welcoming base for our six days of serious diving. Fiona's breakfasts are to die for and made the end of the first dive of the day eagerly anticipated.

Well, Neptune was looking down, or up on us, dependent on where you believe the God of the Sea rests as the ferry journey to the Orkney Isles was completed on a mill pond and for much of the week the sea, both in and out of the Flow was eerily calm, with sunshine and only a couple of days that saw some chop and a little rain.
Scapa Flow James and I have been diving together for just over a year and Scapa has provided us with both a challenge and a momentum to progress our diving skills. One hundred and fifty dives in 12 months, mastering twin sets and decompression diving tested our resolve but gave us a great deal of satisfaction and it has to be said, fun on the way. We were determined to dive Scapa well and we did! The other members of the team Rowland and Penny both instructors with thousands of dives and Lisa, an AI, gave us great support during the dives and Rowland's vast and in depth knowledge of deep and technical diving was a huge bonus, for which Jim and I are extremely grateful.
We agreed with Ian, a mix of dives with the focus on the High Seas Fleet, but also the shallower 'blockships', such as the Doyle and Tabarka and just outside the Flow, the trawler James Barrie, at 42 metres.

Our first dive was to the Cruiser Brummer, with which I have fallen in love and to which we returned again. She lies on her port side, at between 24 and 36 metres, was 139 metres long and weighed 4,308 tons. The 5.9 inch guns forward of the bridge are impressive to say the least. The cruisers: Brummer; Coln II (which was another return dive, with her impressive mast resting on the sea bottom); and Dresden II, offer the best dives of the fleet in my view. The fourth cruiser the Karlsrhue II, is pretty broken up with the three battleships Konig, Kronprinz Wilhelm and Markgraf lying between 12 and 46 metres. The battleships are unfortunately just upside down hulks, under which, if you almost crawl along in the silt you can see through the dark, the great guns of these capital ships. We learned that you descend down the line and when you reach the wreck 'left shoulder to the wreck takes you to the bow and right shoulder to the stern; except on the Dresden!'

The aquatic life on the higher reaches of the cruisers is significant and was a pleasure to see, so here, on what is the ocean's equivalent of the Egyptian Pyramids, life was abounding on the relatively undisturbed remnants of the 1st World War battle fleet.

The depth of most of the wrecks does provide a challenge in that if you want to see even a small portion of each wreck you need to be qualified as a decompression diver. That being said James and I notched up the longest period of deco at 35 minutes. When we go again we will take a rich mix of Nitrox in our deco bottles rather than, as we did this time, just diving on air in our twins.

Whilst Rowland, James and me were in awe of the wrecks, Penny and Lisa were more interested in crabs and nudibranch (nice name for sea slugs), I am not sure what that says?

With only five of us booked on the Invincible there was room for some other divers and we were joined for the week by Kexy a Slovinian flight attendant and an experienced technical diving instructor, Ton (Tom in English) an instructor from the Netherlands and ace underwater photographer with extensive experience of diving Scapa, plus individuals such as Emily and Ben from the Stromness PADI Dive Centre Scapa Scuba, Emily also skippers her own day boat Radiant Queen. So, lots of knowledge and advice.

The Second World War wreck of the German escort vessel F2 and the nearby salvage barge YC21 were an excellent dive and the poignant sight of the salvaged guns in the barge pointing skywards as if in some sort of salute.
London School Of Diving
The scattered remains of the German submarine UB 116 were fascinating, especially during one of Lisa's flora and forna investigations when James thought she was touching a torpedo no problems it was the tube, not the torpedo.

Here we go!
Things go wrong, Penny's mask strap broke in the dark shadow of the Dresden just after we had signalled 'OK' with our torches. In those few seconds contact was lost. Returning to the Invincible after our decompression stops we initiated the missing diver procedure, but were relieved to see Penny's SMB appear on the port side of the boat and she came on board none the worse for the experience. My dry suit flooded on the way down to the James Barrie a chilling experience as the water temperature was only 8 degrees. Kexy's neck seal came away and Lisa's swivel pin in her SPG had to be changed. All adds to the fun.

A great six days of diving, great company, new friends, good food, great fun and a sense of a job well done. Will we go back? A BIG YES and the sooner the better.

Twelve hours after arriving back on the mainland we returned weary and tired to our homes and Scapa was 700 miles behind us.
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