Bankies go with the flow
by Andrew Sinclair
photos 3,4, 26 & 27 by Michelle Morgan
all other photos by Keith Waugh
underwater photos are screenshots from video footage.
In February 2017 I was fortunate enough to be invited to dive Scapa flow with Thurso dive club. I was so impressed with the weekend diving onboard the MV Karin that I decided to organise a weekend away for my own dive club.
John Thornton, Skipper of the Karin, is a man who has a vast amount of knowledge of the Flow and the wrecks beneath her waters. I wasted no time contacting John via Facebook to book a trip for 2018. Easter weekend was available and with that tying in with my offshore rota the dates were confirmed.
And so Friday 30th March was upon us as 9 club members set off from Clydebank and the surrounding areas. We had also invited to friends of the club to join us. Both Scotsac RI’s so we had to be on our best behaviour.
Lady luck was not playing ball with me, the week leading up to the trip the death of a family member, a funeral on the day of departure, my youngest up to Accident and Emergency the day before departure, a yellow snow warning for the North of Scotland the day of departure and a trip member badly spraining his wrist and having to pull out the trip, had me wondering what I had done in a past life to upset the diving gods.
As the Dive party boarded the MV Hamnavoe at Scrabster, I was setting off from Strathaven, having spent the afternoon at a family member’s funeral. I was lucky that due to the Easter holidays, Northlink had put on an extra ferry service for Saturday morning. I had explained my plight to the dive party who were happy to delay “ropes off” until my Ferry arrived in Stromness at 1015 on Saturday morning. Skipper John was also very accommodating to my situation and was happy to have a late start and wait for me.
While the rest of the guys bedded down for the night on MV Karin in her 12 berths, I was settling into my hotel in Inverness. I thought it best I get a good night sleep and leave Inverness early to catch the 0830 ferry on Saturday. I set off from Inverness at 0430 and arrived through a snow blizzard in Scrabster at 0730 in plenty of time to make the ferry sailing. Northlink had been very easy to deal with and the guys heading over on the Friday sailing were able to put all the dive gear into dive trolleys free of charge. I was less fortunate and had to make the 0.5 mile walk from my car to the passenger terminal carrying my dive gear. Once at the terminal though, the Northlink staff were very helpful and took my gear and loaded it onto the cargo boxes for me.
As the Hamnavoe sailed into Stromness the guys were on deck on the MV Karin waiting patiently for my arrival. First off the ferry, I grabbed my gear and made the short walk around the harbour to our dive vessel for the weekend. Permission granted from the Skipper to board I had hardly stepped on deck when the ropes were off and we were on our way to the first site.
We were heading to the SMS Karlsruhe, a light cruiser. She was just one of several the German High Sea fleet of World War 1 that were scuttled in the flow on the orders of Commander Ludwig Von Reuter on 21st June 1919. The wreck itself is broken up in places, but once the layout is understood the wreck comes alive and is very enjoyable. The Karlsruhe lies in 25m on her starboard side with a lot of opportunity to penetrate the wreck. Visibility on the wreck was good 8-10 meters, water temp was very cold at 4 degrees. We were able to see the huge chains that run out the hawse pipes, The 2 forward deck guns which are an impressive site, various openings on the deck where you can peer in and look at pipework and beams etc. The wreck is covered in an abundance of sea life. Plumose Anemones, Devonshire cup corals and several Nudibrachs. 30 minutes on the wreck and coming close to decompression, it was time to find the shot line and head back up to the Karin.
Once everyone was safely back onboard we were treated to tea, coffee, cake, homemade soup and sandwiches freshly prepared by the Karin’s deckhand Barry. This service is all included in the price for the weekend.
With a few hours surface interval we headed over to the F2 escort vessel which is a World War 2 wreck. She sank in a gale in 1946 and now sits in around 16m of water. The front of the vessel is easily recognisable lying on her port side, we were able to see her forward gun, anchor chains and the old mast. Again, visibility was around 8 meters and the temperature had slightly increased to 6 degrees. Lots to explore on this wreck. She is penetrable and there is much to explore on her and she makes a very good dive.
We were diving on spring tides and both dives saw us finning against a stiff current which certainly had a few of us ready for a nap upon our return to the Karin. Barry had prepared a lasagne, teas and coffees again. With the day’s diving complete, it was time to head back to Stromness to moor up for the night. With the Flow flat calm and the sun out above us it was time to have a nap on the sun deck and catch some vitamin D.
With it being Easter weekend, I anticipated Stromness being a tad busy, so I had made contact with Royal Hotel the week before our trip to book a table for 14 for dinner on Saturday night. Our Skipper John had been invited along for a meal which he had happily agreed to. A few drinks, a 3 course meal and plenty of tales, some of which I’m sure had grown many arms and legs, and it was time to head back to the Karin to get our heads down for Sunday’s diving.
The guys were up early on Sunday morning and with Martin Keeley going along to the shop to buy bacon and morning rolls, it was only right that I cooked up the bacon rolls in the Karins well equipped galley. With everyone fed, “ropes off” was at 9am and it was on to our next dive site. Most of the party had dived in Scapa flow before and we were all in agreement to dive on the Battleship Kronprinz Wilhelm.
Although “turtled” there is still much to see on this impressive wreck. The wreck lies between 12 and 38 meters but most of the action lies under the 30-meter mark. Many of the ships 12” guns are still visible and are an impressive sight. One can only imagine the guns in action and the destruction they would have caused when the target was hit. My buddy and I were down at 36 metres and we were able to see the guns, the front mast that sticks out along the sea bed. As the Kronprinz lies upside down, the port side sits off the sea bed, meaning we were able to dive under her with the decks above us. There are opportunities to penetrate the vessel, but we opted to stay on the outside. What becomes obvious is the sheer size of this battle ship. One dive on her and you won’t even have scratched the surface of discover. We came across portholes to peer in, Gears and large cogs that were once part of moving machinery. With our dive computers starting to approach decompression, we had zigzagged our way up from 36 metres to 20 metres. It was time to send up the DSMB and make our way back to the Karin. As My buddy and I drifted in the stiff current the shot line appeared a few metres in front of us. Piece of luck and made it easier to carry out our 3 minutes safety stop hanging off the shot line rather than drift in the current.
After some great food and a trip to Lyness on the Isle of Hoy, it was time for the final dive of the weekend. The SMS Koln is the most intact of the light cruisers in the flow and lies in 36 meters of water. She lies on her starboard side and can be explored from 36 metres up to 22 metres. According to most, this is a fairly easy wreck to navigate but on today’s dive the visibility had deteriorated to 3m. With a lot of particles in the water and a stiff current, I personally found it a bit disorientating at times. My buddy and I spent most of the dive at the aft end of the ship as the 5.9” gun is there. After exploring the stern we were able to move onto boiler rooms and the bridge which are still easily identifiable and in good condition considering how long the wreck has been down there. After 28 minutes it was time to come up, as the computers were nearing decompression.
Everyone back on board and a head count it was time to de kit on the sail back to Stromness, to catch the 1645 ferry back to the mainland. Speaking to everyone onboard, all agreed that the trip had been a success with great weather and pretty good vis thrown in for good measure.
It takes a lot of hard work to plan and execute good dive trips but it’s not possible to do this on your own. You need a bunch of likeminded people who share a love for all things underwater and for hard boat diving you need a vessel and crew that are knowledgeable and keen to help you get the best out of your trip.
It’s the second time I’ve stayed on and dived from the MV Karin and I absolutely love the set up and atmosphere of her. John Thornton has been in Orkney for 40 years and knows his stuff. His crew man is there to help divers suit up and get them in and out the water safely. With Nitrox available onboard, the Karin is fast becoming a favourite of mine and I’ll be planning to head north with her again soon.
Thanks to the guys who came on trip –
John Morgan, Michelle Morgan, Allan Reader, Keith Waugh, Neil Richardson, Leigh Milne, Martin Keeley, David Struthers, Fiona Houston, Ronny Scrymgeour
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Webmaster Footnote: Please go to the "Videos" page to view a 12 minute video, which will give you a flavour of the diving in Scapa Flow.