Scapa Flow 2014

The wreck diving mecca for a lot of divers, the maritime archaeology and history of Scapa was waiting for us to explore. As only one of us has ever been to Scapa we’re looking forward to diving the WWI wrecks.
Most of us arrive on the 7pm ferry but Jodie, Luke and Kate are overly keen but have managed to steal the prime bunks and deck space

Day 1:

SMS Desden

The week starts with a shake down dive on the Dresden, we’re introduced to Bobs legendary briefings and are informed that the SMS Dresden lies both on its port side and on an incline. You can drop in on the bow and hit around 25 meters, if you head towards the stern you can hit 35 meters.

A diver prepares for his dive

A diver prepares for his dive

We drop in at the bow and immediately find the Desden’s hawse pipes, then at the bow you can see where the ships shield was. Turning towards the stern you can swim between the deck where it has peeled away and the insides of the ship. Swimming over onto the deck side we find a 5.9” gun before we hit the command centre.

F2 & YC21 barge

This wreck is a two for one special, the main wreck sank in 1946 but was not salvaged until 1968, disaster struck though when the barge YC21 sank in a storm on 15th November 1968

A legendary Bob briefing on deck!

A legendary Bob briefing on deck!

The start of our dive takes us from the shot towards the stern to see the broken up mess, deciding this isn’t the most interesting part we head back towards the bow and find a 4.1” gun on the way. Coming around the bow we head and find the rope that takes us to the YC21. Immediately we can see where the guns being salvaged sat as the barge sank with one pointing out of the hold and one inside. A workbench complete with vice is against a wall. Rosie tells us she saw a seal but no-one believes her…

Day 2:

SMS Brummer

The Brummer was a mine-laying cruiser designed for speed. Today the ship lies on her side in 36 metres of water and was largely left in tact by the salvage teams

A capstan for the anchor chain

A capstan for the anchor chain

Straight down the shot and we find a gun, after an interested poke around we head towards the engine room and the main savage section. Something resembling a gun swivel seems to sit in the savage area, but to our untrained eyes it could just as easily have been part of a capstan mechanism.

SMS Karlsruhe

A largely broken up wreck which gives the opportunity to access parts of the wreck that are are largely unavailable on the other cruisers. It lies in around 25 meters of water.

The shot took us onto the control tower of the ship, there was an interesting poke around before we headed towards the stern encountering a 5.9” gun on the way. We found all that remains of one of the pinnaces on the sea bed, a lone boiler. It seems small in comparison to the massive ship the carried it. At the stern we found the rudder but couldn’t stay long and Lorna zoomed back to the shot for a steady ascent and leisurely safety stop

Day 3:

SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm

Our first battleship of the week, these ships are the largest Scapa Flow has to offer and the sheer size can take a diver by surprise. Divers can come away without appreciating all this wreck has to offer but another of Bobs legendary briefings gives us the tools we need.

A wonderful start to the dive as I forget to set my Apeks Quantum X for my back gas and deco gas and it logically thinks I’m using 99% o2. Great, a beepy dive. Never the less I have my table plan as a backup. We are first in and we immediately head for the first 12″ gun directly below the shot, following the barrel down we find the second, the end of which is stuck in the deck. Turning around we swim back towards the greenish light taking a moment to appreciate the sheer size of the barrel of the first gun at its thinnest point.

Once clear we swim towards the stern to find the rudders and swim over the prop shaft, the size of which again takes you by surprise. Turning back towards the shot we aim to find the casemate guns but manage to miss them all. Ascending we do our deco according to my table plan and my buddys computer.

SMS Karlsruhe

Our second visit to this wreck, this time we head to the bow and run into two 5.7″ guns along the way. The capstans are easy to pick out with the anchor chains running off still. Due to the broken up nature we satisfy our squirrelling love with some swim throughs and then turn back towards the stern. We find some more swim throughs along the way as we pass the command centre and find the sterns capstans. Time to put up a blob and head home.

Looking into the armoured command centre

Looking into the armoured command centre

Day 4:

SMS König

This warship gives her name to all ships of her class. As she has deteriorated she has become a great wreck for experienced divers. The salvagers blew apart many spots which mean areas are accessible here that are not on other wrecks.

The shot line takes straight onto one of the turbines that drive the prop shaft, after a look around we make an escape to her port side as more divers descent the shot line to join us. Turning towards the stern we swim over what is left of the hull and at one point we find a large opening, there’s not a lot of space inside so we decide against entering but wonder if it is possibly the bottom of one of the Königs 12″ guns. Continuing to the stern we swim over the stern end of the armoured citadel. It is open enough for us to see in and identify what remains of the elevator that takes shells from the belly of the ship to the firing platform.

Turbine plates

Turbine plates

The armour surrounding the gun is 12″ thick steel and you can see the curvature where it has had to surround the gun. This armour surrounds the whole of the citadel and much like on the Kronprinz Wilhelm the size can take your breath away. Continuing to the stern we find the rudder, at this point my buddy decides to see if the sea bed has anything to offer and starts to swim away from the wreck, but turns back before he gets bored. I was informed after the dive it was to try and see the scale of the Konig but I think not.

SMS Dresden

This is our second visit to our first wreck in Scapa. All that we have learnt from Bobs briefings so far gives us a different perspective on this already dived wreck. Tragedy strikes as I jump in as I realise my fears are realised, my dry suit is leaking…

Again we start at the bow but this time we investigate the capstans drive shaft before delving into the space between the deck and body of the ship. The views from the darkness out into the lighter sea with wreckage silhouetting are spectacular.

We decide to follow the mast to find the lighting platform and find the searchlight ring as described in our briefing. Turning back the wreck appears in front of us, the smaller of the two main wreck types in Scapa but the size is still something to behold. Heading deeper and towards the stern we find the davit arms that are like cranes to lift tender boats on and off the larger mother ship. Turning back towards the bow we swim along the shallower hull and follow the bilge keel home. Back on board the Halton and I’m ringing out my undersuit.

Day 5:

SMS Cöln

A largely intact wreck that like the König gives its name to ships of her class. Sister ship to the Dresden it is a very different dive as it is not as broken up. As shallow as 22 meters and as deep as 36 meters there is something for everyone here.

Over night I’ve tried to repair my drysuit with aquasure and I’m hopeful as I jump in and start to descend the shotline to the bow. Unfortunately my repair has not worked and again I’m met with cold water trickling in. My buddies appear indifferent to my plight

My guns bigger than your gun

My guns bigger than your gun

The first thing we find is the armoured control tower which we look at in detail as the door is hanging from its hinges. We make sure to avoid the touching the door and surrounding area though, having been told a horror story of a diver being trapped by a falling door. Once satisfied my buddy decides he wants to investigate the stern but inexplicably turns towards the bow. Once realising his mistake we swim past the davits as we stick our heads into every hole we can, I have my camera with me and snap a picture of my buddy “firing” one of the 5.7″ guns. We find the stern capstan complete with kedge anchor before turning back and following the shallower hull back to the shot line

Due to the leaky nature of my drysuit I decide not to have a second dive.

Day 6:

Tabarka

Skipping the morning dive due to my leak, I decide to wait for the last dive of our trip. The Tabarka is one of Scapa Flows famous block ships that rests in the strong tidal waters of Burra Sound. The tides wash away just about all sediment which means visibility is amazing on this shallow wreck, but it means we must be exact with our timings or risk being swept away.

There is a mist around and we run the risk of not being able to dive if visibility degrades, we sit waiting for the tide and for Bob to decide if we can dive or not, finally the shout comes to kit up. As we sit ready we notice the other dive boats in the area that are taking position above the block ship of their choice, so many divers together it feels like military precision

The Tabarka swim through

The Tabarka swim through

Finally the tide is slack and we enter with negative buoyancy. It has been stressed that we need to sink as quickly as possible and find the lee side of the ship before making our way inside. We have to wriggle a bit as our entry hole is perhaps a little small but once inside you realise why divers love these dives. The inside of the Tabarka opens up and is full of light as the ravages of the tides have opened holes between the steel ribs. No matter how many divers we have in this open space, the visibility is stunning since there is so little sediment

The broken sides of the Tabarka let plenty of light in

The broken sides of the Tabarka let plenty of light in

After the initial wow factor has worn off we swim towards the three boilers but turn to one side as we get there swimming along a narrow space between hull and wall. The end of this narrow space looks too small to escape from and we are forced to return the way we came. As we come back to the boilers we realise the massive space we initially entered is now free from other divers and we head back for a second more thorough look. There’s plenty of life present and the wrasse are colourful and I even spy a dog fish hiding from everyone else. Unfortunately time is limited and we are forced to leave as we start to feel the tide pick up force. We exit over the boilers and out into open water and put our DSMB up. Even a leaky drysuit can’t ruin this dive!

Told you there was a dog fish

Told you there was a dog fish

All writing, video and picture credits to David Brander, with additional footage provided by Phil Fieldhouse and Rosie Brown
Special thanks to Bob and Theresa on the MV Halton for a great week!

Trip participants

Robert Ellwood
Rosie Brown
Mark Jennings
David Brander
Brian Bailey
Lorna Nye
Luke Judge
Jodie Martyndale-Howard
Rob Walker
Kate Walker
Phil Fieldhouse
Will Pimblett