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Zip it up


Mark Sarton

OK Kiddies.

Just to keep you enthusiastic, here's what Will and I did one Bonfire day.

We turned up individually at Eastbourne harbour on a crisp, calm morning. The boat (Dive 125 an offshore hardboat with comfortable cabin and lift) was loaded with a minimum of faff and the boat headed towards the lock.
e-med Arabic
Striding, giantly I had a while to spare on the run out to the site, so I had a sneaky re-arrange of my hose routing. Nothing beats a nice faff! The plan of the day was to dive the wreck of the Waterland, a World War One, thousand tonne collier that had (in the company of a group of merchantmen) run into a minefield in 1916. The wreck sat upright and reasonably intact in 40 metres of water.

After an hour's steam out to the site, we kitted up and elegantly plopped in. We descended the shotline in an aquamarine fog of late algal bloom caused by the unseasonably warm (15 degrees) water.

Further down the shot, with Will below me, the water started to turn darker green at around 20 metres and then grey at 30. I sparked up the Salvo only to find that it didn't improve the 3 metre visibility as much as I'd been hoping.

In the last 5 metres of descent the water turned from grey to black and once we finally found the wreck we were effectively diving at night.

The wreck itself was fairly intact. The vertical structures aft of amidships were badly broken down, leaving suggestions of the shape of the hold in-between white sphyrodeta-anemone plastered sheet metal. The anemones served some pleasant relief from the dark vis and silty bottom. Will and I headed aft and swam through a gash in the hull and along the ship's bare plating towards the stern. Shoals of bib flashed in and out of our circle of visibility as our torches scoured the hull for points of interest. A rather scared selection of crabs peered back at me from rents in the thin hull, whilst a fat old lobster hunkered down in the shadow of the wreck trying not to look tasty.
Penetrating Wreck I think he got away with it, as I didn't see him on deck later!

Approaching the stern, we were pleased to find both the prop and rudder in place. I swam through the prop blades and out to the starboard side. The other side of the wreck was covered in life and as we bumbled towards the bows, the Sphyrodeta were replaced by big cooking apple-sized plumose anemones.

There was a brief Piccadilly Circus moment when all the other divers appeared from the opposite direction. It was sufficiently dark for me not to be able to see any faces at all, just the glow from the faceplate of everyone's torches. We lost the wreck completely at this point and had to swim around randomly to find it again. We found ourselves over the side and on top of the wreck, ambling quite happily towards the bows. Past the shotline the wreck became less damaged with rooms and superstructure jutting up above us. I had a nasty little moment when I realised I'd quite unconcernedly swum into the wreck without knowing it.

Back over the starboard side and we headed up round the bows and on to the fo'c'sle where the narcosis allowed us both to miss the stern gun. Will explored the anchor room whilst I fired our blob and we ascended past an intact and colourfully colonised deck winch.
Ladder plus Diver Just before starting our ascent I paused to shield my torch and have a look around in the dark. Contrary to what I was expecting, there was enough ambient light to illuminate the wreck. It looked a bit like a dive would look like under a full moon, the tops and edges of the ship lit up in dusky light whilst the lower areas remained inky shadow.

We left this moonlit green scene with torches still burning to allow us to see what we were doing on ascent.

With about 45 minutes of deco on the clock, I was glad to leave the wreck. Our deep stop passed without comment and at 20 metres I swapped onto my half bottle of side slung 50% whilst Will waited for 10 metres to swap to his rocket fuel. With deco times slashed down to just over 25 minutes for me and something like 18 minutes for Will, we relaxed, dugin and waited to chase our ceiling up to 4 metres.
Nautilus Lifeline
With 6 minutes still on my clock and Will's obligation cleared, I hit zero bar and the 'regulator brick wall' on my deco gas. A quick switch of regs saw me regressing to 9 minutes of deco on back gas.

I hung there doing the mental arithmetic to work out how much back gas I had available. When I finally got the right amount of zeros in the right place I decided that I had about 40 minutes of 'hanging round, just chilling' gas. Either that, or 4 minutes of 'panicking wildly, about to get bent' gas.

At that point, my primary reg started to bubble in an "I'm about to freeflow and then you'll be properly ****** sort of way". With more irritation than worry I switched to my backup reg and shut down the right hand post. Another dull 8 minutes (I was relieved to find that '40' and not '4' was the right answer) and Will and I were bobbing happily on the surface under the clear sky and low winter sun.

Job's a good 'un. Now all I need to do is get my reg serviced

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