There’s a saying ‘You can’t go home again’ (from a novel by Thomas Wolfe) or in modern idiom ‘You know it’s not the same as it was, As it was, as it was’ (a song by Harry Styles) meaning if you try to return to a place from your past it won’t be the same.
Scapa Flow has to be considered the crown jewel of UK diving & perhaps the holy grail of UK wreck diving and going back after 6 years certainly felt like a homecoming of sorts & it was also a chance to look at things with new eyes & the experience of all that diving in-between..
Some things though don’t change & that was our selection of Huskyan expertly skippered by Emily Turton as our base of operations; sure there are other dive boats in the Orkneys but like the diving this is considered by many to be the best & we were not to be disappointed!
Our party of 11 mustered up on the quayside next to Huskyan (and only 5 minutes from where the ferry had deposited us after our long journey from various parts of the UK)
We had our club 4 (Sue, Colin, Neil & myself), Alan & Sarah from Totnes BSAC (they keep turning up!) Gail & Steve (so do these guys!) & 3 new faces from the midlands: Andy, Steve & Mike. We also had Kath & Jo, non-diver partners along for the ride as well.
With Huskyan efficiently loaded under Ben (Emilys’ other half) & Duncans’ (deck-hand) supervision we got our meeting orders: Monday at 8:30am & then made the short 5 minute walk to our digs for the week: Divers Lodge, memorably situated next door to the Royal British Legion & opposite (5 steps across the road) the Ferry Inn.
Like Huskyan, Divers Lodge is top-quality accommodation & after settling in we had an early night before our week of adventure commenced!
Monday 3rd October, 2022: Dresden
After a great briefing with options of the bow (26m) or stern (36m) shot we made or dive plans & headed down.
Visibility was a little iffy but we all gave the wreck a thorough explore including the rear guns, the control tower, mast & a lovely swim through the hull & the deck which has peeled away.
Visibility improved as we explored the less intact wreckage of plates & spars we were accompanied by huge shoals of fish eerily lit by the torches of passing divers.
We followed the lengthy (50m) port anchor chain to the huge anchor lying away from the wreck before heading back, found the anchor hawser but no shield & with mounting deco took the shot up to our stops and then the surface before moving downwind so Huskyan could pick us up with Duncan, the deck hand to help us back to our seats.
This is a great ‘shakedown’ dive with its varying depth options & was enjoyed by all, even more so when finished off with a pint (or close to!) of something steaming from Anotonia (deck hand in training) and superb curried sweet potato soup – is our skipper skilled or what!
Monday 3rd October, 2022: Karlsruhe
Several hours of surface interval & it was on with the show!: down to the bow & a swim round for a front on photo (didn’t come out 🙁 ) before heading down the side. The hull is quite opened up with many fallen plates & I took a swim through & surprised a ling minding its own business!
The sea-life encrusted bow capstans were very much in evidence as we passed to view the mast, the guns & the bridge before reaching the stern capstans.
With time still on our hands I found the prop shaft A-frame & fetched Colin, returning to it swarming with everyone else who had just found it!
Then it was up the stern shot but surprisingly no deco – we had planned for 50 minutes plus 10 of deco, we still did an hour but had obviously not been as deep for as long as we had expected to be.
More tea & cakes this time before heading to Divers Lodge where the boys prepared a delicious pasta bolognese – yum!
Tuesday 4th October, 2022: Coln
With Neil & Sarah feeling a little under the weather today we were a slightly reduced party & Sue joined Alan for the diving
Kitted up & giving Duncan the OK we were helped to the side of the boat & then it was in & down to the end tied off at a lifeboat davit before heading towards the bow.
The mooring bollards were very much in evidence & the collapsing hull & peeling deck meant I was inside the hull almost without realising it!
We headed back to the conning tower & then across the salvage blasting gap – lots of pretty unrecognisable twisted wreckage passing beside & beneath us
Slipping down the side to the rudder I spotted the two prop covers & being by then on the sea bed it seemed churlish not to swim under the rudder towards Colins’ torch – so I did! 🙂
Tuesday 4th October, 2022: Kronprinz Wilhelm
Tea, soup & a nice rest put us ready for another great briefing from Emily on one of the big ‘stars’ of Scapa – the Kronprinz Wilhelm – a 200 metre long behemoth!
Our (Colin & I) plan was to go down to see the big guns & then head aft & so it was down the shot, & then over the side (past the place where in 2016 I had to stop as I wasn’t qualified to go deeper) & into the deepening darkness.
Reaching the bottom there were a lot of divers & lights still in the gun overhang from the first group who went down 10-15 mins before us, Colin peeked inside & spotted the gun above but there was too much silt to chance going further so we got a head start on exploring the rest of this massive wreck.
After exploring a large area of salvage damage we headed down to the stern & up between the huge rudders absolutely bursting with white & orange plumose anemones – a stunning experience in 2016 & no less so 6 years later!
Down & to the left we rooted through lots of broken metal – drive shafts & other less recognisable items before moving over to the right & up onto the side of the hull which was swarming with brittlestars & so many fish!
As we moved for’d we occasionally dropped down when something caught our fancy before moving back up to minimise deco until our scheduled 40 minutes of bottom time was reached & it was time to bag off & head up for our deco stops – there was quite a lot of swell on the shallower ones & the sun greeted us on the surface.
Apparently there was some important football match on this afternoon so the boys headed to the pub next door while the rest of us chilled & Gail & Steve cooked us ‘Scouse’ (a sort of brown stew) for dinner which was absolutely delicious!
Wednesday 5th October, 2022: Bayern Turrets
Colin took the day off so Sue buddied up with me for this one – selected based on a vote that many of the party had actually never dived them (including me) or had done so a long time ago.
A great briefing as usual; seems there is more there than I thought (I thought 2 were buried but they’re joined by a rope) and each identified as A, B, C & D
We went down to ‘C’ & round it having a good look then across to D to view the circle of huge ball bearings that enabled it to rotate (when the right way up!). With deco accumulating (2 minutes so far) we headed back to C & then up & it cleared
There was better viz than I thought it’d be based on the book I’d read (4m vs 2m).
This is one I’d definitely do again – far too little time.
Wednesday 5th October, 2022: Brummer
Sue’s rig was not secured & damaged & with the spare on the quayside she had to skip this dive so I went down the shot with Mike on this one.
We were greeted with plenty to see – a landscape of shafts & girders poking up at acute angles with plate covered areas hiding who knew what underneath. Several hatches enabled internal inspection of ‘walls’ that almost looked like lathe & plaster (I’m guessing it was probably decking). It was difficult to align what we were seeing with anything resembling a ship but that really didn’t matter – there was something new every few metres!
All too soon our exploration came to an end & we headed up for our deco stop – I must say Mikes’ buoyancy control was second to none & he seemed very chilled out during the whole experience, even when one of the other boats dropped a load of divers down the shot – they at least ensured they went down around us
Back at the house Colin & Jo had already prepared a chicken curry & leaving it to simmer they headed for the Ring of Brodgar, an ancient stone circle a few miles away; Gail & Steve did the same & then headed to the pub
The curry was excellent – Colin should take more time off diving to cook with Jo 😉
Thursday 6th October, 2022: F2 & Barge
With high winds forecast & a potential ‘rest day’ Emily joined our expedition WhatsApp group to give us an update on the feasibility of diving – her post came bright & early to meet her at the boat: ‘we were going out for a looksee’
Several of the party opted to do more local exploration of the islands – there’s a lot more here than the diving, which left Andy, Steve, Mike, Colin Sue & I diving.
First though there was the humiliation of Emily berating Colin for not telling her he needed gluten free cakes & she had loads – so he was ‘forced’ to eat 2! (cue jokes about dropping a few kilos!) The cakes were all delicious & light
It was quite a rough ride out & we all (except Steve) vetoed the Markgraf site & the Coln site but the F2 & Barge being nicely tucked away were just right
Sue joined Colin & me for this one & we dropped in, Colin grabbed the shot & grabbed me but the tide was running & we missed Sue so Emily picked her up & dropped her back in & we grabbed her & went down to the calmer waters below.
Viz was pretty good (4m) and later even better (5m) on the barge, We sorted ourselves out & headed along; Colin & Sue went down into the barge (as did the boys). I stayed above, looked at the guns & watched some cheeky wrasse – there were a few big Corkwing around too, not scared at all.
Then it was across the rope to the F2 & then down the hull to the prow, there were lots of fish underneath. Heading round the nose & then back down the other side we saw the capstans & peered inside to the mechanism.
Then further on past lots of twisted wreckage and out to the gearbox & then back. Sue spotted a big lobster under a plate. Further down we ventured out for more wreckage then at the stern followed the rope to the ‘lollipop’
Sue indicated to Colin she was low on air (Colin & I were on twinsets while she was on a 15 & a 3 litre Pony) so he did primary donate & they swam back along the rope together & on a bit
We found the 2nd gearbox & then headed along the rope back to the barge & to the shot. Sue switched to my primary donate for a bit & we slowly went up.
The standard ‘pint’ of tea followed by potato & leek soup (beautiful) & very nice carrot cake – I was forced to finish half of Sue’s & another half – you cant say no to Emily!
Our journey back to port took us through a squall but then the sun came out to finish things off!
Colin & I took a wander down to the dive shop for a browse – we didn’t need anything but it just seemed polite – I picked up a pair of Showa 660s for £4.60 (you can never have too many spare dry gloves!)
On the way back we met Neil & Kath & were invited into their little house (Emily’s mums old house), a very quant dwelling that was basically three rooms stacked on each other: lounge/kitchen/bedroom for a brew & a chat
Back at Divers Lodge we chatted about the day & Gail magicked up a pasta bake – yum
Friday 7th October, 2022: Markgraf
Our final day & a late start as the winds were pretty high in the morning & even then it was still an ‘interesting’ trip out
Our choice was the Koenig or the Markgraf, we had a tied vote so we split the party: 5 to each 🙂
The sea was still pretty tough (not as bad as yesterday) whitecaps & a large swell as we dropped off the Koenig party & awaited their return & when they did they reported a very enjoyable dive.
The Markgraf was next & our plan was to get in & down to 5 metres to check things rather than suffer the big swell & so we did
At the bottom of the shot (towards the bow) we followed it over the edge & further down (to 41m) to do the ‘gun run’: we found the first 4 but the next two are hidden & seeing the ‘boys’ heading our way we left the guns to them & opted to head for’d through the wreckage towards the bow., but we couldn’t find it!
We explored various pieces of wreckage but had clearly gotten turned around somewhere so with deco mounting up we headed up the hull & aft, noticing the hull swarming with brittlestars.
Finding the anchor chain (which is wrapped around the ship we followed it to the right towards the shot, observing the vast numbers of sea creatures that had decided the chain was their home – at the shot it was up for the deco stops & then out – a very nice dive to finish things on
Back at port it was time to unload to the van & then Colin & Jo brought back fish & chips – yummy!
A trip to the Royal pub gave us a chance to thank Duncan & Antonia for all they had done for us over the week & to say a fond farewell & wish them well in their future endeavours – Duncan joking Antonia has taken his job – true but he has other plans.
Further farewells were made that night & the following morning to the rest of the party and we dispersed to our various destinations
Even if you can’t go home again why would you want to; with all the changes we’ve all gone through these last years everything old is new again!