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Issue 21 - Hidden treasures

Scotland Magazine Issue 21
July 2005

 

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Hidden treasures

Pulau Sipadan, the Red Sea, the Great Barrier Reef and, erm, Scotland. It might not sound quite right, but Scotland is actually one of the most unique places to dive in the world. Alex Mead found out more…

Admittedly, it doesn’t offer the luxury of luke-warm water temperatures, palm-tree lined beaches or ‘Nemo-fish’ (also known as clown fish), but Scotland is a hotbed of dive sites and, if you want to consider yourself a proper diver, it really is the place to go for an underwater adventure.

Whether it’s reefs or wrecks you’re after, the coasts of Scotland can provide. But, what with it being a bit nippy on occasions and the water being often on the choppier side of choppy, you do have to be careful.

“I would say diving in Scotland is as good as any diving in the world,” says Drew Anderson, a PADI master scuba trainer, with more than 3,000 dives under his belt.

“The likes of Scapa Flow are just tremendous to dive but people have to be aware that it’s quite challenging.

“You can have big problems with the currents and the weather. You’ve got to have the ability and the fitness to dive here.

“First of all, you have to be able to dive in a dry suit. So if you haven’t already done it, you’ve got to do at the very least a dry suit orientation course – that’s something you can do here in Scotland. It costs about £150 and you’ve got to do four dives in a dry suit.

“Scotland’s a good place to learn to dive, the quality of instruction here is very good.” And, even if you are fully qualified, Drew warns, you can still get in trouble.

“The visibility can vary so much that it can just go from 20 metres to zero and sometimes you can’t even see your hand in front of you.

But, get past the training, get a few dives under your belt, choose a reputable dive company, a reputable dive boat charter and use companies who know their way around the area and you can enjoy one of the best diving experiences around.

THE KRONPRINZ WILHELM, SCAPA FLOW.

Described by Drew as “the best wreck dive I’ve ever done,” the Kronprinz Wilhelm is a mighty German dreadnaught from World War I.

Requiring more than 1,000 men to man, weighing over 25,000 tones, and 575 feet long – the war ship was impressive to say the least.

But when the Armistice was signed in 1918, she was part of the German High Seas Fleet that was to be taken to Scapa Flow for internment.

As you might expect, the admiral in charge of the fleet didn’t want it to fall into British hands.

And so, in 1919, he scuttled the fleet – including the awesome Kronprinz.

Today, it lies upside down on the seabed at Scapa Flow – one of the best dives you’ll ever do.

THE KOLN, SCAPA FLOW.

Another of the German ships scuttled back in 1919. With just the 5,000 or so tons to play with and 510ft in length, the light cruiser is not in the same league as the Kronprinz. But, lying on its starboard and with the minimum dive depth at around 20 metres, it’s not a massively difficult and the visibility is often good.

THE RONDO, SOUND OF MULL.

A cargo ship that came to grief back in 1935.

It’s the position of the Rondo that makes it intriguing to divers. The Rondo came to its end when it broke anchor and found itself stranded on the islet of Dearg Sgeir. While salvagers struggled desperately initially to save her and then save just parts of her, Rondo eventually slipped down the side of the islet bow first.

She now lies almost vertically with her stern just three metres below the surface, the bow is 50 metres below. Massively popular among divers, but extreme caution is warned as the weather and current can cause major problems.

THE HISPANIA, SOUND OF MULL.

“Covered in life, a really beautiful dive,” is how Drew describes this Antwerp ship built in 1912. This 1,300 plus ton steamer went to its watery grave in the Sound of Mull when it hit the notorious Sgeir More reef in December 1954.

Twenty-one of the crew were saved but the captain, Ivan Dahn, went down with his ship.

The Hispania today is a good dive as her 237ft length makes it simple to cover the wreck, which remains structurally intact, in one outing.

THE AKKA, FIRTH OF CLYDE.

The largest diveable wreck in the Firth of Clyde, this Swedish cargo ship met was brought to the seabed in 1956 when her hull was torn into by the Gantock Rocks. Six of the crew of 33 perished and it now lies upright, mostly intact, with the stern deck at a depth of 40 metres and the bow deck at 30 metres.

THE BREDA, ARDMUCKNISH BAY, OBAN.

Just off Oban, on the west of Scotland, The Breda is still intact. As such it is one of the most popular dives in Scotland.

The Dutch cargo ship was being used by the P&O Line when it was the victim of German bombers that damaged it enough to send it a day later to the sea floor 30 metres below.

With plenty of cargo on board when it went down, the ship is still a veritable treasure chest when it comes to interesting little finds – shaving kits, lightbulbs, tyres, binoculars, bank notes (Rupees), and wine bottles are just some of the items divers have been finding over the years. At 6,491 tons and 418ft long, The Breda is certainly a sight to behold and a must-do dive in Scotland.

PORT NAPIER, KYLE OF LOCHALSH.

Loaded with 550 mines and more rounds of ammunition than you can shake a rather large stick at, HMS Port Napier was never going to go without a bang. When a fire started on the 9,600- ton ship it was moved immediately but before it could reach its destination, it exploded – sending huge chunks of ship sailing hundreds of feet in all directions.

Popular for novices and expert divers alike Port Napier lies on its starboard and has a maximum depth of just 21 metres.

THE GARVELLACHS,WEST COAST.

A set of islands just off the shore of Oban, the Garvellachs offer beautiful, scenic diving – walls, cliff-faces, reef… you name it they’ve got it.

The local charter boat tends to focus around the main spots – a steep drop-off and reef covered in life that varies from conger eels to lobsters and crabs are just a couple of the reasons that make the area so popular.

The clarity of water is another. As with several sites in Scotland, it’s the surrounding life that also adds to the character of the dive. Further out west from the islands there are a number of other good dive sites, but they are only accessible on good weather days. If you’re lucky enough to get such a day, and you’ve got a good charter boat, then there’s a good chance of seeing a minke whale.

CATHEDRAL ROCK, ST. ABBS.

According to ukdiving.co.uk, Cathedral Rock is one of the most dived sites in the British Isles.

Hermit crabs, wrasse, squat lobsters, cod and soft coral are just a handful of the sights on offer when you visit Cathedral Rock and explore its top and lower tunnels, the former known as the ‘Keyhole’, the latter the size of a double-decker bus.

The variety on offer appears to be among the key reasons for diving Cathedral Rock.

GLANMIRE, ST ABBS.

If you’re going to dive Cathedral Rock, then it’s easy enough to make a weekend of it and dive the Glanmire too. The 1,141 ton Scottish steamship went down in 1912 and is now considered to be the best wreck in the St Abbs region. Not one for the inexperienced diver. While not in as good nick as some the Scapa wrecks, the Glanmire does in parts raise around five metres from the seabed and is covered in orange and white soft corals.

For more information:

http://www.padi.comwww.bsac.co.uk

British Sub Aqua Club
http://www.ukdiving.net

Divers’ online bible
http://www.ssac.com

Scottish Sub Aqua Club
http://www.marine-reserve.co.uk

St Abbs
http://www.divernet.com

The website of the excellent Diver Magazine
http://www.oban.org.uk
http://www.divescotland.com

Charter dive boats
http://www.submerged.co.uk

Or call these numbers…
PADI
0131 455 8788
0141 4297575
Scottish Sub Aqua Club (SSAC)
0141 425 1921
British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC)
0151 350 6200
Or read Rod Macdonald’s Dive Scotland’s Greatest Wrecks, which is published by Mainstream Publishing, is full of detailed
information on, as you’d expect, Scotland’s greatest wrecks.