Monday, 10 August 2009

Diary of a Scapa Virgin

I've been thinking of titles for this post all week, I came up with a few decent ones like (wo)Man verses Midge, The Cider and Soup diet, and The Wreck Witch finds Wrecks, but I think the Scapa Virgin sums it all up quite nicely.

So, a week off from running, replaced with a weeks work of wreck diving - superb

It all started early in the am on Saturday the 1st. I could start with all the planning and packing, and checking (and rechecking) I hadn't forgotten any kit, but it all kicked off with a 6:20 am pickup from my two diving club companions Hunter & Tommy. After an eight hour drive from my house in Felling, to John O Groats you might have thought we'd have ran out of things to chat about, but it was like traveling with two James Mays (of Top Gear fame), all very entertaining, they even managed a ten minute conversation on the merits of an articulated lorry trailer (yes I know the mind boggles), but it was all in good jest. In true magpie like diver form they even managed to find some kind of valve or switch in a car park eliciting much ooohing and ahhing :S

We caught the new Seacat ferry from Gill Bay, and after a short crossing, we were on the Orkney Islands!

By 9:30pm I'd eventually found the place I was staying (with the kind assistance of Gordon & Viv), and the lads headed off to the boat.

Sunday: My first day diving in Scapa Flow.

We were aboard the Sharon Rose, everyone all eager to get going, I didn't know everyone yet, but they all seemed very friendly. My buddy for the week was Tommy - which is just as well because most of the time I haven't got a sodding clue what I'm looking at, but he's happy to give me some sign-language-like clues Wink.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I had thought it was going to be pretty cold, 14-17 degrees, that's almost tropical! It was soo much warmer than what I'm used to in the North Sea.

We dropped down the shot descending to our first wreck - the Köln or Coln

..the wreck was impressive, a massive hulking figure disappearing into the gloom, and this wasn't even one of the battleships, it was a light cruiser Surprised We didn't drop right off to the seabed, making it a canny bimble around at 29m. I'm not going to go on and on about the dives (even though I could I'd be here all night) but it was hard to get your head round the sheer scale of these ships.

A brief run down of the week went as follows:

AM: Koln - 29m, PM: Karlsruhe - 23m
AM: Brummer - 35m , PM: The Doyle (blockship) - 13.5m
AM: Kronprintz Wilhelm - 36m, PM: Seydlitz - 21m
AM: Dresden II - 33m, PM: F2 & Barge - 16.5m
AM: Konig - 39m, PM: V83 - 15m
AM: Dresden II, PM: Karlsruhe

The battleships were bloody enormous, the vis wasn't brilliant for the Kronprintz Wilhelm, but you could get an idea of the scale. The Konig was equally impressive, but my favourite dives of the week were the two we repeated for the Friday dives - the Dresden II and the Karlsruhe. I could have probably spent every dive of the week on the Karlsruhe and still been happy, it's a fantastic wreck dive with loads of stuff to see (here's some youtube footage).

Our non-diving (or at least my non-diving) highlight of the week was when the lads did their hard hat diving in Stromness harbour. I haven't had as much fun in ages. They were using some gear in the days before Scuba, with the big metal helmet, and the bloomin' heavy lead boots, and loads of lead hanging from their chest. Its surface fed, with two people operating a pump, basically the harder you pump, the quicker the air is fed to the suit - the diver has to hit a valve inside the helmet with their head to dump the air, or they automatically head to the surface.

The first to give it a go was Todd. After his bimble about in 4m, he made it up to the surface and bobbed about like the Michelin man face down in the water (I'll have piccies at some point). Tommy, Tony and Gordon all looked as if they had a fantastic time, grinning from ear to ear when the helmet came off.

Richie donned the suit, and after his epic trudge from the harbour wall 40m under the lifeboat and back, he made it to the point where he was going to do a graceful ascent back to the surface. He had the pleasure of Tony & I operating the pump for his turn though, and we'd decided that it would be much better if he could come out of the water at a pace, then float around like a beached whale Wink. When we got the word he was ready to go, we picked up the pace so we were turning the wheel like some mad comedy hand operated railroad truck from a black & white movie. I was bloody knackered, but the cheers of applause & laughter from the gathered crowd told us we'd had the desired effect Laughing.

On to the midges. I have a few battle scars from the trip - not least the 14 (count them and weep) midge bites on my head alone, not forgetting the ones on my arms - I've been eaten alive Frown, and that was only from one night in the garden!

I'm a happy bunny though...

My cider & soup diet appears to have done the trick. Normally I'd go on holiday and put of weight, but after a week of eating not much more than soup, apples and cornflakes during the day, then drinking (far too much) cider and eating fish & chips on the night I've some how managed to lose half a stone!!!!

To be fair I've done a lot of diving, and I did 5k runs before breakfast on the Monday, Tuesday & Thursday, but Ali's soup on the boat was the best soup I've ever tasted (wonder if he does take outWink), very very filling, and worth the trip for that alone. Not sure how the hell I managed to lose weight, but I'm not going to knock it.

I'm gonna call it a night before I ramble on and on and on, but I had a great time, and I'd be back up there next week if I had the time and spare coin.

Many many thanks to my dive buddy Tommy & Hunter for taking me up there, to the crew of the Sharon Rose - Kev & Ali, and Andy from the Jean Elaine, and to the rest of the group - Tony Twintanks, John, Stuart, Ruth, Richie, Gordon & Viv, Gordon (Hunter's bro), and Todd & Sam, for making it a cracking holiday!

...a Scapa Virgin no more Tongue out