- Andy Brown
On 07th June 2019, the club began another epic adventure to Scapa Flow, to dive the WW1 German wrecks scuttled here in 1919. But this wasn't just another trip, this was special, this was a week to the centenary of the the scuttling of the Fleet, so would be the last week of good access before chaos would begin to unfold the following week to mark the centenary.
The Trip had been organised by our .D.O., Dr Don Batham, who had booked this trip two years in advance. A number of place swaps had been managed in this time, and at last when we came to travel up, all the places were once more complete. We filled the boat with mostly SCSSAC club members, and an Andover BSAC club member, and two from Northern Ireland, who had joined us on previous trips.
We had hired a van for all the diving equipment, 2 of the group added their cars, and we split ourselves between the 3 vehicle for the epic drive to the far north of Scotland. We had a night stopover in Inverness,
then onto Gills Bay Ferry in the morning. The Irish boys had caught an early ferry from Belfast that morning, and were already ahead of us. A 40 min Ferry journey took us to the Orkney Islands and St.Margaret's Bay, where the ferry disgorged its contents of tourists, walkers, cyclists, twitchers, divers and returning locals to the narrow lanes that connected the islands via the Churchill barriers.
We arrived in Stromness in the early afternoon, it was a windy chilly experience, one that would set the scene for the rest of the week. We were booked onto the Huskyan diveboat and self-catering accommodation. The whole outfit was run by Emily, still very much involved in significant diving in Scapa, not a local at all, but now firmly embedded. Emily proved to be a perfectionist, which was reflected in her business product, the diveboat was state of the art for divers, divebriefs were second to none, and the accommodation all freshly refurbished with a view to what divers need to improve their comfort and equip management.
Once all our dive kit was loaded and setup, the rest of the week was easy and very pleasant. Shane had volunteered to cook breakfast for us every morning and even did a couple of evening meals. These were superb and much appreciated by all, cheers buddy!
After breakfast, it was a 5 min wander down to the harbour and climb down onto the boat, half an hours voyage then into the first dive brief.
Weather conditions were windy most days, F5-6 with occasional drizzle. In the UK this would be blown out, but in Scapa, with the natural shelter of the islands, the sea was still remarkably calm. The average underwater visibility was 4-5 Metres which was disappointing, however, the quality of the dive briefs enabled buddy pairs to navigate themselves around the most interesting features on the wreck. We did two dives a day for a total of 12 dives, which meant a not too early start and a very reasonable finish, normally back at the Stromness for 4:30, leaving plenty of time to explore the old cobbled town with its fine choice of ale houses stuck in a time warp from WW2. The ale of choice for the week was the Scapa Special, an uncommonly seasonal ale with a taste of the salty sea dog. Favourite bar was the Flatties. We dived the following wrecks:- Battleships Margraf, Crown Prinz and Konig, Light Cruisers Brummer, Dresden, Karlsruhe, and the WW2 F2. Some of us even got a dive on the Blockship Tabarka, although most of us were dragged away by the current.
All in all an exciting weeks diving to mark the centenary. The following week (the actual centenary) was marked with all manner of historic events throughout Stromness, and the waterways were to be plagued with an additional 18 club diveboats in addition to the small flotilla of regular local skippers. A festival atmosphere in town, but a recipe for over crowding both in out of the water.