Shetland Diving – a little adventure.

Shetland Diving

Like many who had trips planned for 2020, our Shetland Diving trip was deferred due to the Covid 19 crisis. It was deferred until June 2021, originally booked it in February 2019. So it was a long time coming! 

The Shetland Diving trip was a little bit of an adventure (with a small ‘a’). It is a long way to travel, and we would be somewhat remote. If anything broke, we where not going to be able to get a replacement or spares locally. 

The ‘Team’.

The Shetland Diving team, actually started out as two teams. The trip, booked by Sally, Nick and Joanna at the ‘Go Diving’ show in Coventry, were soon joined by SISAC members: Paul Young, Joe Blythe and myself and six members from East Cheshire SAC: Lead by Steve Marriott (an ex SISAC member), saying his new club were having a ‘bun fight’ to fill the remaining places. So very quickly we had a full boat. 

When the lockdown started in late March 2020, there was concern that it wouldn’t be tenable when the lock down eased. So, we where all relieved that the trip was deferred 12 months, fully expecting C-19 to be a dim and distant memory by June 2021. 

Little where we to know that come June 2021, we would be taking LFT tests in preparation for the Shetland Diving trip. In addition, we where concerned that there may be travel restrictions, or that another Scottish lockdown might occur!

Despite the opportunity to cancel in March 2021, all attendees seemed keen. All monies had already been paid. However, as June approached it became apparent that all was not well with ‘team ECSAC’, as concerns where raised about potential travel restrictions, health concerns etc. Steadily their numbers dwindled to just two: Mark and Henry. 

The final Shetland Diving team where;

Nick and Sally, Joanna, Paul, Joe and myself along with two new diving friends: Mark and Henry. (not in the photo… they must have gone ahead for a cheeky pint!)

 

Travel and arrival. 

Mark and Henry where travelling independently. 

Jo would fly, first to Aberdeen, then to Orkney and on to Shetland, a day early for some site seeing. 

The five of us left Friday afternoon, with a layover in Newcastle, prior to the last hop to Aberdeen on the Saturday for the overnight crossing: Nick and Sally would travel in the truck, all the way to Shetland, taking all the dive kit. Paul, Joe and myself travelled in one car with minimal baggage, parked in Aberdeen and walk on as ferry passengers. Nick pulled up in his truck at the ferry terminal behind Mark in the queue for the ferry , and they introduced themselves.

Once on board we had a few drinks and something to eat. As we departed from Aberdeen in bright sunshine, and having booked cabins for a comfortable night (something our skipper had recommended), all looked positive for the week ahead. We were finally on our way! 

On arrival in Lerwick it was pissing down. Rather foolishly, our waterproofs where somewhere at the bottom of Nick’s truck. We had originally planned to take the short walk from the ferry to the boat, luckily, Mark offered to squeeze us into his truck in an attempt to keep us dry. Our directions where to go to the quay with the red building, Lerwick being a very small place. Point to note, there is more than one quay with a red building!

We unloaded both trucks onto the boat, with everyone being pretty soaked through by the time we had finished. Then the sun came out!

Our reduced diver numbers where a bonus, some of us had a cabin to ourselves. In my case, one bunk for me and one for the camera. In addition, it meant we had more deck space, which was perhaps more important.

Once everything was stowed safely, our skipper, Helen, gave us a boat briefing, introducing the Bosun (Hannah), and the cook (Andrew). She also suggested we get our kit sorted for the first dive of the day. 

The Week Diving Shetland 

I was diving on my CCR, the rest of the team where diving Open Circuit, twins (with a stage in some cases). Because of this, my dives where always going to be limited by my buddies gas and decompression requirements. 

For the week I would carry a Aluminium 80 bailout cylinder, which, would contain air. This provided adequate gas, for both myself, or my buddy in the event either of us had an ‘issue’.

In addition, I had my backup computer set to OC. For each dive it would be preset with my buddies bottom mix.  Allowing me to have a ‘feel’ for my buddies decompression obligation during the dive. (I also tend to flip it on to rich mix once we reach the stops, ultimately letting my buddy dictate the stop time.)

Good communication is still important. Otherwise there was a risk during the ascent that I could swim through my buddies deep stop, or first stop unintentionally.

Sunday

Mansies Berg – Noss

This was a scenic dive. Also, a bit of checkout for the boat to get the measure of us, and us to get a feel for the boat, its procedures and to ensure everything had arrived in one bit. 

The dive was a relatively shallow shelving site with boulders. The briefing mentioned Octopus. 

For the first dive I was diving with Sally, the videographer. 

Shetland Diving

What was immediately apparent, as we descended, was how good the visibility was. Stunning, a good 15+m. Immediately we could see plenty of dead mens fingers, Plumose anemone, and Common Sea Urchins. We failed to locate any Octopus.

We managed 45 minutes before finally returning to the surface, having reached a maximum depth of 31m. 

Nathen’s Knob

A second scenic dive. 

The dive was a second shallow 20m site, more of a wall dive than the previous dive. The briefing again mentioned Octopus. 

Again, I was diving with Sally, the videographer. 

Normally, we switch around every day, but on this occasion we kept the same buddy pairs for the week until the last dive on the Friday morning.

Although Sally is on OC, (I’m on CCR), and less inclined to do long stops, it did mean we were able to take our time with our photographs and video. No pressure from a buddy, anxious to move on.  

Again the visibility was superb, with, plenty of dead mens fingers, Plumose anemone, and Common Sea Urchins in abundance. As we ascended the ‘wall’ we quickly reached the kelp line. 

Shetland Diving

We did find a very large lobster, it took a staring role in both the video and photographs for this this dive.

This time we hit 59 minutes, 1 minute under the maximum dive time agreed for the dive, reaching a maximum depth of 21m. 

On this little bimble in addition to the lobster, we found edible crab, velvet swimming crabs, hermit crabs, and an Angler fish. 

Monday

Gwladmena

The S.S. Gwladmena was the first wreck dive of the Shetland Diving trip. 

A convoy ship, that was run down and sunk on the 2nd January in 1918 by the S.S. Flora of Esbjerg while at its mooring. 

Like another of the ships we where to dive, the wreck had been cleared by wire and chain. The chain has torn the engine from its mount and flipped it over the boilers. 

Because the wreck has been cleared by wire and chain, it is very open, so access to the engine room and holds is simple. 

The shot was on the Starboard side, next to the boilers. As we descended the shot the wreck came into view, the excellent visibility allowing us to see a large portion of the wreck. After taking a look at the boilers and engine, Sally and I worked our way through the wreck along the starboard side to the bow. 

Shetland Diving

The bow is very photogenic, a number of the bow plates have pealed off, allowing easy access to the focsle. Entering the focsle through one of the missing plates on the Port side, there is a coil of hose or rope. As I entered a large Lobster could be seen among the wreckage.

There is a hatch in the focsle, which is a possible exit point, but there is a clear exit into what would have been the forward hold. Sally opted not to enter here, and swam parallel to me along the outer port side, joining me in the forward hold. 

My camera was playing up a little, one of the buttons was sticking, making adjustment problematic, and occasionally firing automatically!

We swam back to the engine along the port side of the wreck, passing between the boilers, then on towards the stern. As we arrived in one of the rear holds, Sally indicated it was time to go, gas and decompression obligations finally forcing us to finish the dive. 

Sally deployed a DSMB as we started our ascent, stopping for Sally’s deep stop initially before ascending to her 6m stop. 

The final dive time, surface to surface was 31 minutes, to a maximum depth of 37m.

Munger Bolder Run

Somewhere among the bolders, are the remains of the wreck of the Ranger, not that I spotted any wreckage. 

Again, exceptional visibility. 

Shetland Diving

Again, plenty of dead mens fingers, Plumose anemone, and plenty of Common Sea Urchins. I did spot my first Nudibranch of the trip during the dive, along with Sea Snails, also what I took to be Sagartia elegans

We reached a depth of 19m and surfaced after 55 minutes. 

Tuesday

Fraoch Ban (White Heather)

This was a small fishing boats, which was fishing for sand eels when she sank. The cargo of sand eels moved and caused the boat to capsize and sink quickly. 

The initial description may sound rather plain (which was the mistake we made prior to the dive). But, it is the Shetland Diving equivelent to ‘The Barge’ in the northern Red Sea, although a lot more complete. It is covered in life and very photogenic. 

As we descended, we could see the complete wreck laid out in front of us, with the other divers swimming around it.

 

Shetland Diving

We spotted Nudibranch, and Octopus Eggs on netting at the stern. Edible Crab and a Spider Crab. On the stern, I also spotted what I think was a Sea Scorpion (my fish identification is a little poor). Around the wreck on the sand, are small flat fish, which can be attracted by disturbing the sand. On the sea bed on the port side, we also saw a Butterfish. 

Total dive time was 41 minutes, with a maximum depth of 30m.

Pionerski

A Russian Factory ship that sunk in 1999. It had been moored, but was blown onto the shore in a storm, when the crew failed to restart the engines. The fuel heaters had been turned off, when the fuel oil is cold it is too thick for the injectors, so the engines would not start. 

Shetland Diving

The wreck has broken into sections. Although the visibility was good, it was almost foggy. Which appeared to be as a result of the low grade steel corroding. 

The site is a mixture of wreckage and gully’s. The site is shallow, which means you must ensure you have swum far enough into deep water, so that the boat can pick you up. 

The final dive was 56 minutes to a maximum depth of 21m.

Wednesday

E49 – Submarine

The E49 – Submarine is a first world war casualty, having struck a mine as it left Baltasound, the mine having been left for the purpose of sinking her. She sank with all hands, so is both a protected site and a war grave. 

The site should be treated with respect.

This dive in particular is the dive Shetland is associated with, in much the same way that the Northern Red Sea is associated with the Thistlegorm.

Yet another dive where we could see the majority of the wreck as we descended. The shot is located at the break in the front of the submarine where the bow was blown off. She is well buried into the white sand. Probably only the upper foot or so of the hull can be seen for the majority of the wreck. 

Shetland Diving 
E49 - Submarine

The Conning Tower is lying on its starboard side, probably torn from the wreck by a Trawler. This is an amazing site. The Periscope is buried in the sand, apparently the optic is complete. It appeared to be far enough into the sand to make it impossible for us to excavate and see. 

Behind the Periscope is what remains of the Telegraph. 

As you swim down the hull towards the stern, the outer hull has corroded in places revealing the pressure hull, various control mechanisms can also be seen. The diesel exhaust is obvious as you pass it.

Between the outer skin and pressure hull, ling could be seen hiding in the holes. 

At the stern, a mechanical mechanism is obvious. I am not sure if this was part of the dive plane control or possibly the torpedo doors. Also, at the Stern, the mooring bollards are obvious. 

There is also what looks like an anchor on the starboard side, however this is far too light, and must be some sort of protective guard for the stern dive planes or rudder. 

The sand moves on this site, burying and revealing the wreck over time. So as time progresses the site could become more visible, or less!

The E49 – submarine is at 34m, and we broke the surface after 34 minutes, despite the small site I could have stayed longer, we never made it to what remains of the bow.

River Bed

The ancient river bed site, was another shallow scenic dive, with a wall and boulders. We had a good root around. 

Shetland Diving

The visibility on this dive did not match that of the previous dives, however, on any other trip we would have said it was excellent. 

Again, plenty of Dead Mens Fingers, Plumose anemone, and Common Sea Urchins. We worked our way up into the kelp line before finally ascending.

We had reached 30m at our deepest, and surfaced after 44 minutes. 

Thursday 

Glenisle

This was the deepest dive of the week. The seabed is at 44m, the wreck at between 36 to 38m. 

The ship had been involved in multiple collisions and a fire during its career. So perhaps it’s hardly surprising that her sinking was the result of yet another collision. On the 24th of November 1917 with a cargo of 2000 tons of coal, she collied with S.S. Gleneig which was being towed into Lerwick. All 23 of the crew and captain where rescued. A subsequent enquiry found the Glenisle at fault for the collision. 

Like the other cargo ship, she has no superstructure, having been cleared by wire. What remained of the decking has rotted through, making the wreck very open and easy to access. 

Shetland Diving

The shot was just forward of the boilers near the Steam vessel, (used to store steam to allow winches to be operated in port when the engines where shutdown). I dropped into the engine room immediately by the steam vessel and started to make my way back towards the stern. Sally stayed above me, minimising her decompression obligation as much as possible and extending her gas time. 

Fairly quickly I was bumped by Paul and Joe, who had immediately headed into the engine room on arriving at the wreck. The two of them had an adverse effect on the visibility, and that impacted my photos in the engine room. We swam down the port side of the engine room. 

At the stern the Rudder is missing, but the upper mounting point is very noticeable and very photogenic.

We turned and headed towards the bow, swimming over the engines. Sally ascending 5m above me, to extend her dive time. An action we had agreed prior to the dive, if the visibility allowed. I made it to around the focsle, before Sally signalled we needed to leave. 

I hit a maximum depth of 41m with a surface to surface time of 38minutes. 

The depth really impacted on Sally’s available dive time. Thanks to her efforts to stay as shallow as practical, I had a great dive. 

Score Point

As per the previous days, the second dive of the day was a scenic dive. 

Shetland Diving

We spent most of the dive near Nick and Jo, just as well because Nick spotted a dog fish, although, initially both Sally and I thought it was the two large edible crabs that had drawn his attention. It was actually the dog fish that was laying on a ledge under a huge bolder. 

I hit a maximum depth of 23m before surfacing after 53 minutes. 

Friday

For the last dive of the week, we chose the S.S. Gladmena, we could have dived the Glenisle again. But we opted for the slightly shallower dive, to get the maximum bottom time. I was also keen to see the Stern. 

For this dive Sally would dive with Nick, Jo having left the boat prior to going to the airport to fly home. 

Nick and Sally entered the water first, intending to video Paul, Joe and myself descending the shot onto the wreck. 

However, there was some suspended matter in the first 8-10m of water. This cut out all the light, so all she saw were our lights arriving. 

Despite the lack of surface light, the visibility on the wreck was excellent again

Paul,Joe and I set off for the stern as soon as we reached the wreck. Both the rudder and propellor are missing, however, the prop shaft is very obvious. I got some good photographs here. 

Shetland Diving

We swam back down the wreck over the boilers pausing at the engine (which if you remembered had been flipped over the boilers at some point). Making our way to the bow past the winches, again, I got some good shots of the bow. Joe and Paul swimming through it exiting through the missing plates at the bow, illuminating the inside of the focsle as they went. Joe and I dropped down the port side briefly to look at the anchor. Then Paul and I reentered the wreck through one of the missing bow port plates swimming through the focsle. We swam slowly back down the wreck past the engine and boilers into one of the rear holds before finally deploying a DSMB each and making our ascent. 

The final dive 39m with a surface to surface time of 48 minutes. 

The Week. 

On the first or second day the boat suffered a compressor failure. Technically it was the hydraulic drive for the compressor. This caused some delay before the second dive whilst Helen sorted out the (smaller) spare compressor. 

This was not ideal, and we used the sister boat, Valhalla, a number of times to fill cylinders from their bigger compressor. 

The loss of the bigger compressor made Hanah’s day much longer, taking significantly longer than normal to fill cylinders. I also suspect this impacted on some of the second dive sites we where able to dive. Especially on the day we dived the E49. If we had been able to fill cylinders quicker, we may have dived some of the second sites further away from Lerwick.

In addition, on the second day there was an incident on the second boat. Quite rightly, we abandon diving and went to help. When it became apparent we where not needed, we returned to diving. 

Both the incident and the compressor impacted the week. However, Helen and the crew did their best through out the week to minimise the impact on our trip.

A taste of Shetland

The day we dived the E49 we had expected to stay the night up north, and return to Lerwick the following evening. However, we returned the same day, to avoid a rougher return journey the following evening, or possibly, to offer support to the crew of the Valhalla after the incident earlier in the week. 

The Boat

The MV Valkrie is a converted trawler. Making her extremely sea worthy, she is being retired after this season. She was very well equipped, the spare compressor an indication of this. She was fitted with a very nice lift, which lifts you quickly back to the deck.

The cabins, salon, and galley/dining area where all warm. Below decks, despite the amount of wet gear being placed on the radiators in the cabins, the air is fresh. The air circulation is excellent.

She is a large boat, and watching her come towards you to pick you up on the first day was a nervous moment for everyone. Although Helen handled her with confidence, dropping us onto the shot accurately, and placing the boat alongside us when picking us up.

Like all boats there are some rules. No access to the diving deck during mooring, and when filling cylinders. Both of which are sensible with the restricted space. A little inconvenient on occasion when wanting to recover cameras, or carry out maintenance on your CCR. Although Hannah is very helpful, and tried to give us access when appropriate. This was perhaps more noticeable because we where using the smaller backup compressor, which took longer, which meant access to the deck was restricted for long periods. 

Obviously, drysuits are not taken below decks or worn into the salon or galley. There is a nice drying & kitting up area in the corridor, where drysuits are hung between dives. 

One of the toilets is accessed from this corridor, which is extremely convenient when kitting up or directly after a dive!

Breakfast was only available between 07:00 and 08:00. The intention is to ensure everything is put away before the boat leaves its mooring. However, on the occasions we left later in the morning, this was inconvenient.

Helen was approachable, and was happy to have company on the bridge, (unless doing something complicated like dropping or recovering divers, or coming into port). 

Dive Briefings

The dive briefings where comprehensive and given by Helen. She is enthusiastic. For some of the scenic sites, perhaps over enthusiastic, the expectation wasn’t matched by the reality. This may also be related to the fact that the team were more weighted towards wreck diving, that said, two of the number where toting cameras! Or possibly, we where a little early in the year, and the life hadn’t returned to the cold waters surrounding Shetland. 

Food

The boat booking is for half board, with Lunch and Dinner extra. 

The Breakfast is a simple affair of cereal, toast, coffee, tea and juice. 

Two versions of Lunch are offered. a simple sandwich affair, or a hot lunch. In truth we made the mistake of not going with the sandwiches. 

We found that there was a rush to get us out of our suits after a dive and into the galley, for lunch. This was a shame as we were all still in that euphoric post dive period of exchanging stories of daring exploits, an extra half hour would have been much appreciated. Perhaps if we had opted for sandwiches this would have not occurred. 

Dinner is a cooked affair. 

Helen and Hazel have a reputation for excellent food. But this was when they where both on the same boat, allowing Helen time to cook. The food did not match this reputation.

Part of this may be the financial impact of the last 12 months, alternately, it is the loss of Helen’s expertise in the kitchen. 

The advantage of Dinner being an optional extra, is that you can take advantage of the local restaurants. We had one night when we had local fish and chips (excellent). Sally, Nick and Jo joined Kate and Dan ashore on another evening for a family meal. On the last night, as a group we visited a local restaurant on Bressay for an excellent meal and end of trip celebration.

Summary

A great weeks diving, with excellent visibility on all of the dives. The wreck dives where great dives, but the scenic dives where a little disappointing. The food was OK, but nothing special. The crew worked hard throughout the week. 

All of us where dived ‘up’, prior to our arrival in Shetland. The trip to Plymouth in May, that most of us had attended meant that from the first dive to the last, we where able to get the most out of each and every dive.

Quick message from Sally:

Gareth hasn’t mentioned anything about my jellyfish shot… so I’ve sneaked it here to see if he notices 😉

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