|Scapa Flow baby!|
Our Scapa Flow excursion had been planned for years. Literally. Wifebuddy came up with the idea at Tekcamp 2011, when we finally met a bunch of people that wanted to do the same type of diving we did. It was a fabulous idea; the trip was booked, deposits paid, and Kerri had emailed her OCD itinerary to our band of adventurers within a month. Then it was just a matter of waiting.
As with all things involving humans, it wasn't without problems. People dropped out, people replaced them, more people dropped out, more people replaced them, some people dropped off the face of the planet completely, and others seemed incapable of reading an email. It was an interesting experiment. Thankfully, Wifebuddy is completely undeterred when her mind is set on something, and eventually we had enough divers to fill The Valkyrie for a week diving the Scapa Flow German fleet.
TEAM IRELANDIn the middle of all the 'im going - im not going' madness, our regular diving chum DIR Dave managed to wangle his way aboard for a bargain price; typical Irish man. This worked out very well as we dived together all the time, Dave has a similar easy going approach, and we could all travel together splitting some costs.
|twin 12s, twin 16's and 6 stages|
Usually our dive trips are plagued with weight restrictions (as per Egypt), but the advantage of Scapa was we could drive over. In short, that meant we could bring whatever we liked; like Dave, whom we usually left behind. The jeep would have been a better suited vehicle for the weight of kit, but it was much too small; so everything was crammed into the Ford Boring, despite Dave's complete lack of faith it could cope. The gear fitted in perfectly, and there was plenty of room in the back to slot an Irishman in.
|Dave in his pod|
Tickets, passports, gear and divers; we had everything we needed for a fabulous week of diving, so hit the road for the far too many hours drive to The Valkyerie. As with all our holidays, i didn't really know where we were going. I knew it was in the UK, but had no idea how far we were going, or about ferry's and stuff. The roles were clear; i was driver, Kerri was navigator and Dave was ... on holiday.
DRIVING. LOTS OF DRIVING.Belfast to Stranraer ferry was the first milestone, which we completed with ease, and were soon aboard the big ship soaking up the free wi-fi's, and updating facebook. Life was good. The weather was a bit crap, but we didn't care about the rain; just as long as the seas stayed flat.
|view from the ferry|
Wifebuddy had become a little obsessed with the Scapa weather. Don't get me wrong, i understood the weather could make or break the trip; but seeing as there was nothing i could do about it (not being god and all that) i elected to let Kerri worry about it. Throughout the journey 'weather watch wife' happily proclaimed random numbers regarding wave height and wind direction that meant absolutely bugger all to me.
Once on the mainland, all we had to do was point the Ford Boring in the right direction and press the pedal to the metal! It was a long journey, but our enthusiasm was keeping us in high spirits.
Then Wifebuddy, and Dave tried to break me.
It's no secret i'm partial to a little bit of heavy metal music. Wifebuddy is also a heavy metal fan; in fact it was musical taste that brought Wifebuddy and I together in the first place. Dave is also a metal fan, so i imagined the soundtrack to Scapa would have been a fairly painless affair. I was wrong. Wifebuddy, despite her fine heavy metal affection, is also prone to listening to a shocking amount of shite. I am usually able to control it, as no other external forces are available to complicate things; then along came Dave.
I knew Dave's music would be a little more mainstream than mine, but it would still be heavy metal, so i allowed him to bring some CD's. Mistake. It appeared Dave was also prone to listening to a shocking amount of shite. Combined with Kerri, this left me and my doom collection highly vulnerable. There would be no My Dying Bride, Anathema, Katatonia, Novembre; instead i was held to the abomination of ...
What the fuck?
I couldn't control them. Kerri and Dave jollied, danced and SANG to the ramblings of some ridiculous elevator music. I mean really? How many instruments can you incorporate into one bloody song??!!!! Shite. Pure shite.
I finally managed to enforce a ban on singing after an hour or so. Moments later Dave, somehow, managed to sing along with the drums. I wanted to kill myself. Even Iron Maiden was ruined as Dave sang the bass line and announced every riff change ...
"Ohhhh, i love this bit - da, da, da, da, daaaaaa, da, da, da."
For the following 7 hours i endured the cater-wauling duo of death and wished GUE had developed a solo diving class.
Our minds were completely lost by the time we reached Thurso.
We collectively witnessed War of The Worlds as the pylons walked across the fields to attack the Ford Boring, Kerri saw "Tatanka" from Dances With Wolves, and Dave continued to sing along with the bass lines. It was no longer a holiday; it was an edurance test, and should be part of SAS selection to test the mettle of fighting men.
I still get flash backs.
Arrival at Thurso signified the end of the drive for at least 12 hours; a pint was needed for sure. Throughout the marathon drive we had been keeping up with the rest of our team via check in points on facebook. Soial media really is awesome. One of my Twitter chums Darren and his family had won the great race to Thurso, and it turned out he was held up at the same B&B we were staying in.
|kicking back in the B&B|
As we booked in at the B&B reception a nearby door popped open.
"You must be Andy?"
"Em, yeah. You must be Darren? Did facebook tell you i was here?"
"No, i heard the accent. Had to be you."
Ah, the good old Belfast accent.
We got to meet Darren, his wife Louise, and randomly enough, her parents. We parted ways, dropped our overnight bags into the rooms and headed out for food and drinks.
Team Ireland wandered aimlessly around Thurso in the hope of finding steak and beer. Darren was kindly texting me as we investigated, with ever increasing reports of places NOT to go into, due to menu problems, staffing issues and furniture malfunctions. Darren apparently had high standards.
Eventually i received a text resembling something from Mission Impossible:
I decided this was more of instruction than an invitation and we headed for Y Not, i mean ... why not? (see what i did there?)
A brisk walk past some rather odd looking individuals we entered the Y Not, met up with Darren and ordered pints and steak.
The hours that followed were fantastic. A continuous flow of divers entered the bar and our group grew to include almost everyone that had booked aboard The Valkyrie. It was great to catch up with Tekcampers I hadn't seen in years, as well as meet some new faces. Pints kept coming and before long the live band Darren promised took the stage.
|Scapa Team 2013|
|Darren & Me|
|The live band!|
At a sensible hour Wifebuddy and Dave decided to call it quits and head back to the B&B. By that stage i'd had far too may pints and elected to stay on for more beer. Thankfully Darren left not long after, and seeing as he was my new key to the B&B, i had no choice but to follow. Darren proved useful once again on the wander home as he refused to attend the local nightclub with me, and i didn't want to fly solo, or sleep in the car.
Dodged a bullet there...
I made it to bed and slept soundly.
It was little bit Indiana Jones; i admit it took all my self control not to pull it out and watch the impeding chaos. I imagined bolting down the stairs avoiding flying splinters and books from the 70's.
We joined Linda and Bruce (Tekcampers 2011) for a fry up. Dave followed shortly after carrying the breakfast card he was given the night before.
Someone politely informed Dave:
"I think you were supposed to fill that in so they know what you wanted for breakfast."
"I have filled it in."
Dave then promptly handed the card to the cook. I found this absolutely hilarious; Dave proved to be a truly worthwhile addition to the trip. Mouldy toast and sausages done, we squeezed back into the Ford Boring and headed to the ferry.
|Scrabster ferry terminal|
My perceptions prior to a dive holiday are persistently incorrect; to the point where i amaze myself, as well as Wifebuddy. We had to get a ferry from Scrabster to Stromness and i was expecting to drive onto a big floating platform with a small outboard, that would motor across a short gap between two islands.
|"Can you bring me to Stromness please?"|
"Certainly kid sir - come abaord!"
I mentioned this to Kerri.
"I thought you told me it was a short crossing?"
"It is. But it still has to fit real cars."
"Oh. Cool. Will if have Wi-fi's then?"
Just as Kerri promised we boarded a big ferry, and it did have wi-fi's.
|location of the wi-fi's|
|Kerri braving the 'sun deck'|
A lumpy two hour crossing ensued, and we drove off to reach our final destination. A quick u-turn once in the port took us straight to the pier to find The Valkyrie moored up and waiting for us. I was ultra excited.
A collection of cars and 4x4's queued alongside, dive gear was quickly strewn across the concrete, and proceeded to slowly migrate to the deck below. Kerri had already jumped aboard to meet the skipper Hazel, which left Dave and I to do the grunt work. I took charge of unpacking the carefully stocked Ford Boring, and I kept loading Dave up with twinsets and stages.
I glanced Hazels direction, and she too looked 'curious' as to the sheer quantity of steel that lay on her deck. I found myself contemplating if Hazel was concerned about the logistics of what we brought along, but a quick comment in her husky Scottish accent put my mind at ease instantly.
"Thats quite a lot of cylinders. but i've seen more."
Team Ireland quickly reserved a spot near the diver lift, and within a few hours the deck was cleared - a collection of twinsets and rebreathers spanned the benches.
|Martin, Bruce, Linder, Bell Johnchamber & Milky Joe|
|our ship - MV Valkyrie|
|Wifeybuddy & I Are Diver|
Skipper Hazel wasted no time, and our group was immediately assembled in the galley for a safety briefing and some paperwork. It was a friendly, yet informative presentation from Hazel on how the boat was run, where to get stuff, how to get stuff, when food happened, and where to sleep. We received a hearty "Hello" from Helen the cook, sounding from deep within the ship somewhere, but didn't get to meet her until later.
Everything was simple enough, and the only challenge our group created was in the form of technical diving instructor and cave explorer legend; Martin Robson. It transpired Martin had an allergy to mushrooms, and a fear of dogs due to an unfortunate incident involving a rabid wolf in Mexico, or something.
Hazel accommodated Martin's needs without hesitation.
"Ok. Thats no problem. I'll keep the rabid dog in the wheel house, and promise not to allow Helen to feed you any mushrooms."
Meeting concluded we headed out for beer, steak and discussed how phenomenal the week was going to be.
PART TWO coming soon...