The fun they had at TEKCamp

An awesome week of meeting the best UK technical divers and learning from them

Diving in The Red Sea

Warm water, clear visibility makes for a great holiday!

Malinbeg Harbour

Often, the simplest local dives are the best.

Norway 2014: PART ONE - Team Special Baggage (the return of Larry Steakman)

Wifebuddy and I hit Norway!


As with all my scuba adventures, i had very little to with the decision to visit Norway. I have a vague recollection involving Wifebuddy showing me a picture of a humongous shipwreck in gin-clear water, stating; "This looks good. We should go." I most likely nodded agreement over a beer, or bacon sandwich, culminating in a fairly large dent in ye olde bank account.

Unlike Scapa Flow we averted chartering a boat ourselves, and instead jumped on a pre-arranged trip via tech diving superstar Kieran Hatton. I didn't know Kieran, but Wifebuddy met him at TekCamp 2012 and assured me he was a bearable chap; we've since become bestest buds of course, despite his constant advances to make me buy a JJ from him. The plan was simple; get to Norway, meet Kieran, mutiny aboard Bob Anderson's ship - MV Halton, and dive some enormous ship wrecks.

Having cast in stone our decision to visit the home of shipwrecks, Krone, expensive beer, and our favourite genre of the rock world - black metal, we felt it necessary to recruit some team members. Wifebuddy worked on our GUE chum Steph (The SOV), whom we had become friendly with during our Scapa Flow trip, and i attempted to instigate the return of Larry Steakman; aka Liam Bateman from our GUE Tech 1 class. Needless to say the offer was much too grandiose to reject and our GUE team was complete.



THE PREP

The thing about diving Norway was the cold. I knew Norway was cold, not only due to a mediocre grade in geography class, but also as the majority of Black Metal album covers depict young heavy metal heads sporting corpse paint, running through a snow capped forest. 

Said metal maniacs often breathe fire too; for warmth i presume. The trend these days for diving sub 6C water is the heated vest; which was alas a luxury i couldn't afford. 




Undeterred, i opted for my current many layers and the addition of a Santi 400g warming vest to the diving wardrobe. Merino base layer, plus Fourth Element Xerotherms, plus Whites Thermal Fusion, plus Santi Warming Vest, equaled job done.

Heating sorted, it was the usual Krypton Factor of squeezing two sets of tech gear into the limited luggage allowance, for which Liam provided a genius solution. Liam established if we flew one way business class, the aeroplane people would increase our baggage allowance both ways, for no extra charge; nice one Larry. I was looking forward to flying posh class, and knew i'd fit in well.

120Kg of dive kit in 6 bags



DEPART NI

The airport was the standard affair; Wifebuddy took care of all the important stuff, while i annoyed her, taking pictures in a high security area. The aeroplane security people were as confused as usual, the queues were as long as usual, the fry-up was as expensive as usual, and i drank more beer than usual. 


In no time we were aboard the Belfast to England leg of the trip; in not posh class.




ARRIVAL UK

As expected, we couldn't fly directly to Norway from Ireland, which resulted in an overnight stay in Eng-er-land. Previous overnight stops on the mainland included cardboard mattresses, and lugging the kit along vacant corridors at stupid o'clock at night, but not this time. Liam proved to be useful for a second instance, due to the geographical location of his house; i.e. beside the airport. Liam had kindly offered to collect us from the aeroplane station, stay with him for the night, and catch the Norway flight in the morning together. It was an excellent arrangement.

We landed, collected the many, many bags and headed out the arrivals bit. Liam's silly big face was waiting for us, along with his much better half, Becky; although I admit i was a little disappointed he wasn't sporting a placard. 

Liam & Becky pensively awaiting our arrival
It was great to see Liam again; we shared man hugs, and I fondled Becky somewhat. It was then off to Liam's posh car, which we crammed with scuba kit, and helped him kerb a few alloy wheels as we left the multi story car park.

We dumped the gear at Liam's place, checked how much alloy had been removed from his cartwheels, then headed out for a curry. Curry isn't such a big thing in Northern Ireland, and i felt slightly out of my depth in the 'curry house' as i scanned a menu that made as much sense as Ikea furniture instructions. Undeterred, i successfully got beer, and permitted the English folk to order my dinner.

I enjoyed a few more beers, my first 'barry-annie,' or something, and witnessed Liam trick Kerri into eating a meat nan bread, despite her commitment to vegetarianism some time ago.

Liam, Me and a 'Barry-Annie"

All in all, it was a great success; and Kerri has re-engaged a meat free diet.


DEPART UK

It never fails to amaze me that i consistently have to get up ludicrously early to go on holiday. I figured the whole point of a 'holiday' was to chill and relax, not get up at sick o'clock in the morning, nevertheless after Wifebuddy's third attempt to rouse me i trailed myself from bed and lugged 120kg of gear into Liam's posh jeep for the second time. Becky was kind enough to drop us to the airport where we met up with our final team member, Steph, and headed for Norway in posh class. I fitted in very well, and particularly enjoyed when the air-hostess-man closed the curtain to protect me from poor class. That said, i'm still not 100% sure what to with a hot face-cloth; i just wiped the place down a bit.

Poor-class and Steph kept safely behind curtain

ARRIVAL NORWAY

It was surprisingly sunny in Norway. I was expecting the dull setting depicted on a Dark Throne album cover, but it was fantastic blue skies and warm sun. Our team of four collected our gear from the 'special baggage' area, and our team name was confirmed then and there. Team Special Baggage had arrived; and within minutes we had our first special moment. The plan was to catch the 'Flybussen' into Bergen and then find our ship. Kerri gave very succinct instructions to the team;

"There's the machine - go and buy a return ticket."

I learned a long time ago Wifebuddy knows way more than me when it comes to travelling, so i did exactly as instructed. The remaining team appeared to struggle. As we boarded the 'bussen i asked Liam:


"Did you get a return ticket?" 
"No." 
"Why?" 
"Honestly?... I don't know."


First point for special baggage went to Liam, closely followed by Steph who repeated the performance, and had an equally appalling defence.


BERGEN

The bus took about an hour, only stopping on two occasions; which sent Liam into a slight frenzy, checking no one was running off with our gear when the big bus boot/trunk opened. Kieran had kindly provided fool proof instructions when to get off - the last stop near the Ramada hotel, which worked well.

Kerri waiting for de Taxi

Bergen streets


We doffed the Flybussen and immediately spied Linda, Bruce and Robin; our buds from the Scapa Flow expedition. We had a quick catch up, then I set off in the wrong direction to find a taxi. Upon my return, Liam pointed to a taxi sign in the other direction, and I had been voted as the man to go get one. Ten minutes later I had successfully hijacked a taxi, made him put all the seats down, and loaded his nice Prius with 250kg of scuba equipment. Again i was voted to accompany the taxi, ensuring safe passage of the kit; the rest of Team Special Baggage would walk.


I introduced myself to Stefan the taxi man, and pointed to a black hulled boat on the far side of the port;

"We're for that black ship mate."

Stefan seemed fairly uncertain, but headed off regardless. A brief journey, 270 krone, and Stefan's marital history (which involved a thai bride) later, we located MV Halton. The bags were piled on the pier and i was formally introduced to Kieran Hatton. Kieran explained we'd wait until everyone arrived and have a brief.

MV Halton in Bergen, Norway

The remainder of Team Special Baggage arrived, along with a few others, and Kieran gave us the heads up for the week. We had a few hours before the ship departed to load our gear, set up kit, pick a room, and buy any luxuries; such as beer. We did all those things. Kieran had cylinders waiting, and we set to work assembling twinsets. Long benches either side of the bow provided ample room to kit up, and large plastic gear gulpers safely housed extra bits and pieces underneath.

Team Special Baggage
Wifebuddy & I Are Diver kit

Correctly marked stages


We visited the shop, bought beer and salami (the closest bacon alternative I could find), briefly scanned for black metal rock stars, and finally investigated the ship that would be home for the week.


MV HALTON

We met skipper Bob Anderson and had a good poke around his boat. Bob had successfully navigated the Halton 30 hours to Norway from the UK, so it was clear we were in a solid piece of sea worthy craft.

The forward deck catered for the scuba gear, along with a shower and WC.




Stepping inside the main bit allowed access to the wheelhouse, galley and dining area; which also doubled as a lounge. Descending a central ladder led us to the sleeping quarters. Six double bunk rooms and another shower/WC were situated below. Some guys had already arrived and various bags sat on top bunks in every room. A quick chat with the occupants allowed some relocation, and soon Wifebuddy and I had our own cabin. Liam and Steph grabbed another, and we were all set.

Dining area

Galley

Wheelhouse

Cabin

Shower / WC

Forward deck


DEPART BERGEN

As promised, by 14:00 Bob let off the hand brake, our ship headed out of the quay and up the Norwegian Fjords. The fjord was amazing. The water was incredibly calm, blue and very inviting; I prayed the conditions would be maintained for the diving.

Fjord

Minutes after losing sight of the pier we were treated to immense scenery. Norway was mind blowing-ly beautiful. When I was a wee lad I listened to my parents discussing how lovely the scenery was as we cruised through various mountains in search of a miserable camping area, and think to myself - eh? I never understood 'nice scenery,' until i looked over the bow of the Halton across a stunning Norwegian Fjord.

The still blue water met solid blue sky, and brightly coloured wooden houses dotted the shore, along with a scattering of tiny islands. I found myself pondering how those inhabitants got to work in the morning, and their Ford Boring was most likely a boat; my mind boggled.

House in the middle of the fjord

Houses & Boats


I stared forward, taking picture after picture, which failed to capture the continuous serenity, over the several hour long journey to port. Bob parked the ship at a small pier where we had dinner (and dessert), courtesy of our live in chef Elisabeth. A post dinner walk revealed a Norwegian Forest Cat, similar to our own, more cracking scenery and interesting dwellings.



The sun fell lower on the horizon as we meandered back to the ship and we called it quits for the night. Norway didn't really get dark, ever, so it was essential to make a definite decision to go to bed.







I crawled into the top bunk and looked forward to the dives that would follow.

Norway at 00:00








Scapa Flow 2013 - PART FOUR: The Pied Piper of Scapa

Pied Piper of Scapa Flow - Martin Robson

The morning after the story telling nightmare I was tired. The pure craziness had obviously taken it out of me. However, in a bizarre twist of fate I was granted a proper lie in as the on board compressor was being fixed. The repair was a bit noisy, and I had considered asking Hazel to keep it down a bit; but thought better of it. After struggling a couple more hours in bed, I embraced the galley for breakfast and then attended to the dive kit in preparation for the first dive; SMS Cöln.

SMS CÖLN


"SMS Cöln is the most intact of the four cruisers remaining in the depths of Scapa Flow. She now rests on her starboard side, but it is easy to imagine the wreck turned 90 degrees and grandly floating on the surface as the formidable warship she once was. SMS Cöln is a light cruiser of the Cöln class. Sister ship SMS Dresden was also scuttled in Scapa Flow and never raised by the salvagers. 
Today SMS Cöln lies in 36 metres of water but extends up to 22 metres at the shallowest point. Unlike some of the warships, SMS Cöln is not a complex wreck to navigate and, combined with her depth, is well within the grasp of competent sport divers. The imposing stem and Armoured Control Tower are just two of the intact features that help to make such a memorable wreck." [source: scapaflowwrecks.com]

SMS Cöln


At 36m the dive was among one of the shallower wrecks, which was great as we were able to squeeze a longer bottom time. It was one of our more successful dives, in that we found most of the good stuff Hazel chatted about in yet another thorough dive brief. As per usual Kerri found a hole, to which Dave and I promptly followed her into, and found some very cool swim-throughs. Back in open water we continued to investigate the control tower, I recognised more guns (amazingly), and just before minimum gas Kerri found yet another hole. Dive done, Kerri initiated the ascent and ran the deco, I shot the bag, and Dave ... well, Dave watched.


Helen served up some post dive chilli, and most of us enjoyed a little nap before the V83 afternoon dive. I also decided I should see if my flooded strobe still worked. Having zero electrical or camera knowledge I decided I’d ask Darren for advice; being a photographer himself and somewhat intelligent.


"Hey Darren?" 
"Yes mate?" 
"Would it be ok to put the batteries back in the strobe I flooded and turn it on? You know, to see if it works and shit?" 
"No mate. Don't do that. Best get a professional to look at it." 
"Aye, figured that was the best option, just checking."


I promptly hid in my cabin and turned it on anyway - it worked! It was a faux celebration as I stupidly put it back together and left it that way until I got home, by which stage it had turned into a salty-crusty mess and I couldn't get the battery door off until I used vice grips that broke if entirely. Lesson learned: if you flood something, take it apart; keep it apart, and then rinse.



V83

'Scuttled in 1919 with rest of German High Seas Fleet, V83 was boarded before she sank, and beached on the east side of Rysa Little. During the 1920s, Ernest Cox put her to use in the salvage of SMS Hindenburg. Her own salvage failed and now she lies in two sections surrounded by debris and rubbish, including the 4.1 inch guns, the rudder and the anchor.' [source: scapaflow]

V83


The V83 was more of a rubble wreck, similar to the Seydlitz dive. As our team sat on the bench Hazel approached and asked if we would tie in the shot line, on a semi-permanent type basis. It was a simple request:

"Hi guys, do you mind tying in the shot?"

I responded, and watched in awe as Hazel tied a shepherds loop, or something, with a piece of rope.

"Aye, no problem."

Now, as many of you know I’m not a member of a dive club, I’m not a sailor, I’m not a fisherman, and I’m not into rope fetish (which many of you should not know); as a result I know nothing of knots.


Kerri glanced my direction:

"You don't know how to tie in a shot." 
"Aye, I know." 
"What are you gonna do?" 
"Tie a big fucking knot."




I have yet to receive an angry Facebook message from Hazel, so I presume it worked.














The dive was great fun. We checked out the gun, wheelhouse, boilers, and an hour later ascended my rather fabulous shot line, meeting Robin along the way.

Kerri searches for holes

The Boilers

Kerri thinking where the holes would be

Robin going full retard on the ascent





That night we wandered into the city of Orkney to visit the infamous Scapa Scuba dive shop. It was excellent - dive kit everywhere! I even treated myself to a hoodie. Kerri bought a t-shirt, a hoodie, a hat ... I stopped watching after a while. Credit card suitably abused, I fancied a pint.










As we climbed the stairs to reach the level with the beer on it, Kerri suddenly stopped. I enquired:



"What's up?"

Kerri didn't speak, merely pointed...

"Oh mother of Christ."

The storyteller ... he was in the pub.









We moved with caution, but our attempt was futile as I suddenly came face to face with a man in a body warmer...


"Hello there. Again. Are you coming to the show?" 

"Em, eh, em, no ... we hadn't realised it was on tonight ... em, ... and we haven't time I’m afraid. I'm also allergic..."


He knew. He had too. We ran back to the ship and hid in our beds until morning.


'You must come and see my floor.'


DAY 6


Day six of the great Scapa adventure was an early start, and we set out to dive SMS König.

SMS König

SMS KÖNIG


'All three of the scuttled battleships remaining in Scapa Flow belong to the König class. This stately warship was the namesake of her class. She lies nearly overturned in 38 metres of water and extensively broken up. The salvage teams, although causing considerable damage, exposed areas that remain hidden on the other battleships. The engine room alone is worth a dive as so many of its component parts remain.
König was a formidable force in her day and was the leading ship in the German line at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.' 
 [source: scapaflowwrecks.com]


A max depth of 40m or so meant another 21/35 trimix fill to add to the big bill; I do so enjoy trimix dives. Milky Joe with his tumble dryer was recruited back into the team, and we set off. We found the barbette, rudder and an SOV.

Unlike an ROV (remotely operated vehicle), an SOV consisted of one of our GUE buddies accompanied by her GoPro - Steph Operated Video. Joe managed to reverse into the SOV just as we began our ascent, and was back on bag duty.


I ran the deco, allowing Kerri to join Dave on holiday.



The surface interval before SMS Dresden dive involved a two hour walk around The Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Naval Museum. It was amazing, and I highly recommend having a mooch around if you're ever in the area.







SMS DRESDEN

SMS Dresden

SMS Dresden is a unique dive within Scapa Flow thanks to the ship coming to rest both on its port side and on an incline. The northward-facing bow sits at a depth of 25 metres and the ship slopes south towards the stern at 38 metres. There are enough hidden gems to please veteran divers but for many it is the human touches shining through which provide the most reward. SMS Dresden was launched in 1917 and commissioned into service with the High Seas Fleet in 1918. Her sister ship SMS Cöln also lies in the depths of Scapa Flow. [source: scapaflowwrecks.com]

The Dresden dive was marred unfortunately by really bad visibility. The water was murky at the best of times, but the fact ten divers descended at once amplified it. That said, we reached the bridge and worked our way along the wreck to the salvage break for an enjoyable dive. 

Poor viz on SMS Dresden

Lighting for pic provided by the SOV


I also managed to get myself entangled in an old shot line, even after Kerri had attempted to warn me. It was rather unnerving, but no big deal and Kerri got me free. We also bumped into Martin Robson on the dive, who later explained he wanted us to follow him into the wreck where the visibility was better. Follow Martin Robson ... hmmmmm ...





Dinner that night was phenomenal. Helen had managed to create two enormous pots of venison pie; venison that Hazel had killed with her own hands apparently.

It was a wonderful feast, and set me up well for an evening watching TED.




DAY 7

The final day on the Valkyrie was as depressing as I expected. There was no particular itinerary for the day and Hazel asked Kerri what the group wanted to dive. We decided upon SMS Cöln and SMS Carlsberg again, as they were two very enjoyable dives.

We prepared a dive plan for the Cöln, which consisted of 'drop down and look about until we hit minimum gas,' when Martin Robson approached us.


"Would you guys like to accompany me on the dive? We could go inside a bit."

Martin Robson

For those who don't know Martin Robson, he is a cave explorer and likes to go far inside caves and wrecks - like hundreds of metres inside. Kerri answered:

"Oh yes! That would be great!"

I was slightly less enthused.

"How far is a bit?" 

"Oh, not much; but stay close"


After a few minutes the word had spread; 'Martin is taking Andy, Kerri and Dave into the Cöln.' Moments later Martin had become the pied piper, and pretty much everyone was intent on following him inside 'a bit.'

The dive was amazing. We tailed Martin to one end of the wreck and slowly navigated an entrance through the hull. It was basically a big conga train: Martin, me, Kerri, Dave, Steph, Bell Johnchamber, and possibly more.

The words "stay close,” echoed in my mind; I didn't let the crazy bastard out of my sight. The interior sections were amazing, and did have better visibility as promised. At one point I became slightly nervous as Martin shuffled through a narrow gap. I quickly followed, fearing the viz would get stirred up and I'd lose him, but just as I caught up he back-kicked out; later stating it was maybe a bit tight and didn't want me freaking out - good call Martin, good call. 

Backing out was a fine idea, but it was soon apparent everyone else had the same 'stay-as-fucking-close-to-Martin-as-humanly-possible' plan, and comically we all collided on top of one another.

PILE UP!!!!


A few minutes later the dive-conga exited through another tear, at the other end of the wreck. Martin waved goodbye and squirrelled off under something else.

Martin post dive
Steph (SOV) - glad to be alive!

SMS KARLSUHE - part II


SMS Carlsberg Karlsuhe was as equally enjoyable as the first time; aside from Rob conducting the dive brief:

'Ye diving Karlsuhe. It hasn't changed since Tuesday.'

And promptly walked out. Classic.




Alas, the dive time was shorter than I would have liked as I had less O2 in my Ali 40 than I thought. After only 35 mins bottom time we gave the final thumb of the week and ascended.

We waved goodbye at the huge chunk of steel and vowed to return soon. It was a sad moment.


Back aboard the ship, it was clear everyone felt the same.











Diving done, the only thing left to do was tidy up. Our merry band of divers quickly had the deck cleared, bags packed, gear dissembled, dried, and the cylinders piled up ready to go. Everyone worked together, making the task a little less arduous. After that we just had to settle the bill. It was nowhere near Maurizio’s Big Bill, but diving helium is an expensive enough affair; but worth every penny.

All accounts settled we headed for the pub for a great nights fun, although the tiredness got the better of most and it was an earlier climax than anticipated. We also had to fend off Martin Robson's black market items...

'You GUE? - need any snaps?'

DAY 8

Stromness Ferry


The final morning on The Valkyrie was sombre and short. We had said our goodbyes to the crew the night before, but Helen had left a final gesture of lunch bags for everyone - it was a nice touch. Then it was into the Ford Boring and onto the ferry, which was particularly rough. From personal experience I advise not to eat a full fry up before that crossing. I suffered, as did most of us.

Andy - ill 
Joe - ill


We used the crossing to say our goodbyes, after which our Scapa group meandered to the car deck, and everyone began their own personal journey home.


CONCLUSION & THANKS


Scapa Flow was an amazing experience. The diving is incredible; it is impossible to comprehend how enormous those wrecks are until you see them in the flesh - breathtaking.

With a maximum depth of 46m and calm conditions, it is a perfect place for new and experienced tech divers alike; or recreational if you don't mind limited bottom times.






If anyone reading this fancies a trip to Scapa, I whole-heartedly recommend The Valkyrie as your ship. The boat itself is extremely well kitted out, the food is glorious, and the skipper is first class; not once during the week did I have to swim for a shot line, or the boat.

The crew were very friendly, helpful and good fun - sincere thanks to Hazel, Helen and Rob for a wonderful experience. It was SO awesome Kerri and I booked a return trip for Nov 2014 there and then.

Rob and his tasty helium


Home from Home


Last but not least, a trip is only as good as those on it. Thanks to Wifebuddy (for chartering the boat and arranging the trip- as always), Dave (hope you had a good holiday), Milky Joe (welcome to team Irish), Darren (we will never accompany your family again), Robin (wreck spotter), John Bellchamber (Bell Johnchamber), Steph (SOV), Linda & Bruce (the inspo folk), Tara (sick note), and Martin Robson (I’d follow you anywhere boss).

Scapa Folks 2013


And remember this; beware of any man in a body warmer who really likes his floor.





Part 1
 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4